Cartel Land, the new documentary by director Matthew Heineman in theaters July 3, follows Dr. José Manuel Mireles, a small-town physician known as “El Doctor,” who leads the Autodefensas, a citizen uprising against the violent Knights Templar drug cartel in the state of Michoacán in Mexico. The above clip, exclusive to Longreads, features Mireles attempting to gather volunteers and support from one town.
Things have changed for both the Knights Templar and the vigilantes since the film’s completion. As Heineman told Variety: “Very, very quickly I realized that this story was much more complex and much more gray, that the lines between good and evil were not that clear. I became obsessed with trying to figure out what was really happening, who these guys truly were, where the movement was going, what the endgame was.”
Last May I wrote an article for The New Republic about how the AIDS epidemic has been way more severe in the United States than the rest of the developed world. More people have died of AIDS in New York City, for example, than Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland combined.
I know, it sounds like I’m making this up, that I’m reading the numbers wrong. I spent months trying to figure out what explained this huge gap.
Writing the article didn’t get me un-obsessed with this, and this winter, I started working on a video that put all the numbers and reasons in one place.
The nice thing about videos is that you can present a ton of information without having to explain each data point. Here’s the differences in death rates between US states, for example. I could only mention a few of these in my story, but I put all of them in my video.
And here’s one of the most major, most obvious reasons we do so poorly in keeping people with HIV alive in this country: We don’t get them on treatment early or consistently enough.
But it’s not just our health care system. The virus arrived here earlier, and it spread faster. By 1995, when anti-retroviral therapy became available, the U.S. had more than 750,000 people living with HIV. Germany and Britain had fewer than 40,000.
Anyway, I’m getting carried away, it’s probably quicker if you just watch the video. One of the challenges of these explainers is that it’s easier to present data, but harder to present caveats. HIV surveillance systems differ pretty significantly across countries, and even the term ‘AIDS death’ means something different depending on which country is reporting it.
All the epidemiologists I talked to for this story told me to think of the numbers as a range, subject to updates and re-estimations as more data comes in. I don’t think I did a great job expressing that in the video. Luckily, it’s on YouTube, so I’m sure we’ll have a sophisticated methodological discussion in the comments.