Steven Soderbergh, his frequent writer Scott Burns and filmmaker Tony Gilroy have stated over and over again that pharma-based scandals are an immediate threat to the world and are grossly overlooked by the media and investigators. Enter Fire in the Blood, an eye-opening expose of western pharmaceutical companies, which is simultaneously fascinating and depressing for anyone who has ever taken medication.
Like Michael Moore’s Sicko, Fire in the Blood film is pretty much a case study of how the US is more or less a massively profitable playground of a handful of conglomerates leeching off the rest of the world. Director Dylan Mohan Gray angrily takes his cameras to the AIDS hit third world and inside the underbelly of American pharmaceutical firms which price their medicines a hundred times their worth to keep the cash flowing. The very thought of these big pharma companies exploiting humans for gigantic monetary gains and still proclaiming to nobly help mankind is sickening in itself, but to watch the facts unfold on the screen will make you utterly despise America’s capitalistic proclivities.
Fire in the Blood has its share of shocking images from Africa but not in a manipulative poverty porn way. It’s hard for any single film to establish the extent of imperialist healthcare policies because the problems are not just abundant but systemic and racist. Gray focuses primarily on the way the western pharmas have become the mafia of the pharmaceutical industry by misusing the patent laws to maximize their own profits. Interestingly, the film intercuts to the Indian firm Cipla which was primarily responsible for ushering a new law that crippled the monopoly of American firms like Glaxo. It’s heartening to see Cipla’s Chairman Yusuf Hamied standing up against the tyranny of Glaxo and pioneering the advent of affordable multi-drug combination pills that were once out of reach for the common man.
Some of the facts in Fire in the Blood may only represent the surface level of the problem, and the film’s cutaways to an impoverished Africa tend to get a bit repetitive after a point. Gray’s cameras introduce us to various people in India and Africa who contracted HIV but are still alive due to their access to inexpensive medicines in the country. One really inspiring segment involves a man from the North East who was diagnosed with AIDS in his youth and went to become a Mr Universe runner up. The film juxtaposes this information with the fact that a half a dozen pharmaceutical companies make more profit than the rest of the Fortune 500 put together. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, and Fire in the Blood is an important film given the circumstances. Ironically, despite the film’s message about India being a hero in medicine, hospitals in India are doing exactly what the Western pharmas are. It’s about time someone makes a film on that.
(First published in MiD Day)