Streaming Doc 'Right to Try' Follows Man's Journey with Experimental HIV Treatment

by Steve Duffy

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday December 17, 2021

Longtime HIV survivor Jeffrey Drew took a risk to take part in an experimental trail for an HIV cure. He chronicled his experiences in a new short doc "Right to Try" streaming on Hulu. EDGE spoke to Drew about his experiences.

In October 2019, longtime HIV survivor Jeffrey Drew†stopped taking his latest treatment regimen of two pills daily to take part in experimental trial for an HIV cure.†To do so, Variety reported in June "researchers wiped out his immune system with chemotherapy before injecting him with the experimental treatment."

Drew, an LA-based casting director, was diagnosed with HIV 34 years ago when he was 23. Making the decision to participate in the experimental treatment was not a small one. "Drew had every reason to say no: He was doing fine on his meds, and the experimental treatment could destroy his health. Despite the risks, he said yes."

"The treatment was so uncertain and new," Drew told Deadline. "I was certainly getting very ill for about a month. I thought, 'My God, what did I do?'"

His journey with the treatment is chronicled in Zeberiah Newman's short documentary "Right to Try," which was picked up by Octavia Spencer's production company Orit Entertainment last summer and is currently streaming on Peacock. It dropped on the streaming service Dec. 1 in conjunction with Worlds AIDS Day.

"The sacrifices and the potential sacrifices that Jeffrey made in an effort to cure HIV, which 38 million people worldwide are battling, is a heroic journey that everyone should know about," Spencer's producing partner Bill Clisham told†Variety.

Spencer agreed, explaining at a Q&A in June: ""I just remember watching the movie — and when we got the reset button with this pandemic, you realize†that you have to be of service," Spencer said. "I thought, 'Well, this is a way that I can help because I want to be able to push this story out there.' And they had done such an amazing job ... I kept wanting to make sure that the word got out. We need to do something about how medicine is distributed in this country. And for Jeffrey to be so selfless — I don't know that I can ever do that."

Newman, who is a producer for "The Late Late Show With James Corden,"†told Variety that "as a gay man, I feel motivated to get Jeffrey's story out there. He is an undiscovered hero who people in our community really need to know about."

EDGE spoke with Drew recently about chronicling his experiences on film, why he agreed to a treatment that required risk, and meeting Octavia Spencer.

EDGE: The most important question of this interview - Tell us about your dog? He is so cute.

Jeffrey Drew: Charlie is a rescue. I got him from the pound almost nine years ago. Yeah, he's my boy! He is in the film a lot and now that I think of it, he should have received top billing.

EDGE: How did the idea of filming your story turn into a documentary?

Jeffrey Drew: Well, Zeberiah Newman, who is the director, is a friend of mine. When I had agreed to start the trial, he thought it would be really interesting to film my journey. At first, I wasn't sure if I should, but now I'm glad I did. Once I agreed, he grabbed his camera and started to follow me around. I think he was more fascinated that I was willing to do this trial without getting paid.

EDGE: How did you feel about sharing your personal life and journey with the world?

Jeffrey Drew: I thought the entire process was interesting, especially because I didn't understand what the story was going to be or where he wanted to go with it .Initially, I thought he would get some footage, and it wouldn't go anywhere but in the bottom of a barrel. Honestly, I was thinking does anybody really need to see this? As I was watching the footage and how it was going, I thought this could be interesting, but it was also hard to watch because I was not looking my best and I wasn't feeling very good. So, at times it was a little hard to watch. I just had to trust the process and trust Zeberiah. I trusted that he was going to help me navigate through this and it was also a joy to share this journey with him.

EDGE: How did you hear about the clinical trial?

Jeffrey Drew: A friend of mine told me about it. There is a lot of these kind of trials going happening, but they are happening through Big Pharma. Everyone is racing for a cure. I found this to be interesting because it wasn't attached to Big Pharma and it was privately funded. I was excited at the possibility of globally helping mankind with the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We are just fortunate here in the US that it is manageable, but still not cured.

EDGE: Why say 'yes' to something that could destroy your health?

Jeffrey Drew: I trust the scientists and what their goal was and what they were trying to accomplish. I'm a man of a certain age and I have been around a long time. I was a young gay boy in the 80s and I watched all my friends die. I watched how we were of service to everybody collectively and trying to give them peace in their final days. It really left me with a fractured spirit all these years later. That had a lot to do with my decision about doing the trial. This was my way of honoring those who have passed and to hopefully help eradicate HIV/AIDS around the world even if it destroys me.

EDGE: Will we see a cure?

Jeffrey Drew: Truthfully, Steve, and this is just my opinion and I will probably get myself in trouble for saying this. I believe that there is a cure. I do. I just think that because it's been monetized and it's a treatable disease that there is no need for a cure. If there was a cure big pharma wouldn't make any money. We need to continue to demand it. I would love to see a generation of people that wouldn't have to live with HIV/AIDS.

EDGE: In the first few minutes of the show, you recall the early days of the AIDS epidemic. What would you like to say to those friends you lost?

Jeffrey Drew: That their memory is still alive with me and that I am always going to fight to make sure there is a cure someday so that they did not die in vain. It really took people like Elizabeth Taylor and the death of Rock Hudson to get people to say, "Oh, this can affect anyone regardless of orientation. This is just not a gay man's disease."

EDGE: Did you get to meet Octavia Spencer?

Jeffrey Drew: Oh yes! I've had several dinners with her and participated in a few of the screenings. I got to hang out with her when she was doing the James Corden show a few weeks ago. My family thinks I'm a celebrity now because I was hanging out with Octavia Spencer. She is just a kind and generous person. She is someone you can just sit on the couch with and talk about a million things. We talked a lot about service and service with in the LGBTQ community and how we can make a difference here on this planet. I feel like the planet is weeping and we need to do something to comfort her. Octavia is the greatest. I'm so honored to be going on this journey with her.

EDGE: How is the experimental treatment been working?

Jeffrey Drew: Right now, I'm not detectable. A couple of months ago, I got the reservoirs in my body measured and they are still working and seeing how it affects my body. I am hopeful.

EDGE: What are you hoping the audience will take away from watching "Right to Try?"

Jeffrey Drew: I'm hoping the audience will see how they can make a difference. I really think it's about service, especially in the LGBTQ community, and how we can help one another. Especially, those who are less fortunate. We all really need to be more service-minded especially in these times.

EDGE: You have been involved with "Best in Drag Show." Tell us about it?

Jeffrey Drew: I have been involved with "Best in Drag" for almost 30 years. We are raising money to help people that are struggling with HIV and homelessness. We are getting them off the streets and into apartments. Alliance for Housing and Healing believes that people will take their medications if they have a place where they feel safe and have a refrigerator. So far, we have raised almost $6 million to help this fringe group of people that are struggling out there. They also help people with mental illness, drug addiction and alcoholism. We just keep putting on our dresses and doing these fundraisers to help as much as we can. It truly is a very fun and joyful evening. I'm in the middle of putting together our next show which will be held in April 2022 at the Orpheum Theater.

"Right to Try" is now streaming on Peacock TV. For more information visit, https://www.peacocktv.com/
For more information about Best in Drag show visit, https://alliancehh.org/