Cleve Jones, the founder of the NAMES Project Foundation, has spent nearly 30 years sewing together a quilt. With over 48,000 panels, he yearns to finish it. But this is no ordinary quilt. Each handmade panel represents a life lost to AIDS—an individual with a unique personality and story. The quilt will not be finished until AIDS is eradicated once and for all.
The Last One tells the story of the AIDS Memorial Quilt from conception to its current travels across the nation. The quilt, which is housed by the NAMES Project Foundation, was conceived at the height of the ’80s and ’90s AIDS epidemic as “a weapon against not only the disease but the cruelty and bigotry that the disease exposed,” Jones says. But more than that, it symbolizes passing family love down through generations and “not throwing anything away, that everything is useful,” he says.
Through archival footage, interviews with individuals who have dedicated their lives to the quilt, and personal testimony from those affected by HIV, The Last One explores the politics and stigma associated with HIV and AIDS. Even though gay men represent only 15 percent of the world’s HIV transmissions, the historical perception that HIV/AIDS is a “gay disease” has had a lasting effect on how the virus is treated and talked about. When such homophobia is at play, it not only negatively affects those who are LGBT-identified and HIV positive, but erases visibility for communities that are heavily impacted by HIV, such as the African-American community and women.
The Last One is a reminder that the fight against HIV and AIDS is far from over, as infection rates continue to steadily increase each year. And until that fight is over, the AIDS Memorial Quilt will always have a missing piece—the final panel that reads “The Last One.”
The Last One airs on December 1 at 7:30 p.m. (CST) on Showtime (sho.com). —Megan Smith