Intersexions is an immensely popular, multi-award winning television drama series, consisting of two 26-episode series. The experimental drama series first ‘mapped’ out a sexual network over 25 independent, but interrelated episodes that followed an HIV infection chain as it cut across geographic, age, racial and class boundaries. The series focused on issues relating to love, sex and relationships and how our lives intersect in ways we do not even know about; that the moment people become sexually active, they become part of a sexual network of people who are related even though they may be complete strangers. The stories depicted a range of risk scenarios and aimed to take viewers closer to understanding the interconnectedness of their own sexual networks. The first series asked the critical question, ‘do you know your lover’s lovers?’ (‘do you know your partner’s sexual history?’),inviting audiences to reflect on their own sexual history and behaviour. The series closed with a one-hour ‘docudrama’ which broke form to explicitly reveal the sexual network and to educate viewers about specific contexts of risk and what behaviours reduce HIV transmission risks.

The powerful tools of contemporary evidence-based research into HIV transmission and prevention and qualitative research that allowed for the deep examination of the lives and attitudes of ordinary South Africans guided the producers to get beneath the surface of what is known about the virus and the people most at risk. While Intersexions I focused on the sexual network, the focus of Intersexions II was on sexual secrets—how that which is left unsaid or hidden in our personal and sexual relationships places us at risk of HIV infection. Intersexions II included topics not previously covered inIntersexions I, such as medical male circumcision, corrective rape of lesbian women, bisexuality, drug abuse, couples HIV testing, polygamy, STIs, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and antiretroviral treatment for children

Intersexions I was broadcast on SABC 1 in 2010-2011 and Intersexions II in 2013; both have been rebroadcast given their widespread popularity. Series one received eleven South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTA), the Screen Excellence Award for best drama, the AfricommNet award for best mass media and the internationally acclaimed Peabody Award. The second series of Intersexions has already received similar acclaim as the first, winning SAFTA awards for best drama series, best actor, best actress and best director of photography.

As the research partner for Intersexions, CADRE facilitated a multi-stage research process that involved 1) participation in the script development process, through research input and the review of beats and scripts to check the relevance and accuracy of HIV and related health content; 2) pre-testing scripts for storyline and message clarity, unintended messaging, to ensure gender sensitivity, and to check for cultural, religious and social authenticity and acceptability for mixed viewing audiences; and 3) undertaking a qualitative evaluation of the series. In addition, summaries of 40 sexual biography interviews that CADRE conducted informed character development for Intersexions II.

Intersexions is produced by Quizzical Pictures and Ants Media, in partnership with Johns Hopkins Health and Education in South Africa (JHHESA) and SABC Education and jointly funded by USAID/JHU HIV Communication Programme through PEPFAR and through the South African Department of Trade and Industry. Series’ evaluations, a number of articles, conference posters and presentations are available.

Intersexions series one is currently being re-broadcast on SABC 1 (September 2017).

 

Executive summary: Evaluation of the 2nd Season of Intersexions

Authors

Laura Myers, Helen Hajiyiannis, Alice Clarfelt, and Ts’elisehang Motuba

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