Fiona Ma for State Assembly
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‘Be About It’ documentary brings Hep B awareness front and center

“Be About It,” a documentary directed by Christopher C.C. Wong, which follows the lives of Bay Area reporter/news anchor Alan Wang and athlete AJ Jabonero as they navigate living with hepatitis B, was screened at the CAAMFest last March 13 in San Francisco.

The 39-minute documentary gives a glimpse of the lives of Jabonero and Wang as they go through their daily routines with their families, and shows the struggles, the emotional turmoil and the triumphs experienced by Wang on one side, and the courage, determination and passion for life shown by Jabonero who passed away after battling liver cancer.

Prior to the showing of the documentary, Fiona Ma, another Asian American afflicted with hepatitis B and who has become the face and spokesperson for the San Francisco Hep B Free campaign, addressed the audience.

Alan Wang; Melissa Jabonero, AJ’s wife; Shawne Lopez, AJ’s sister; director Christopher Wang; and producer Zebediah Smith came on stage to answer questions and give their thoughts after the premiere of “Be About It.”

Interviewed by the Asian Journal, director Wong said he was approached by GILEAD Sciences in 2014 to make the documentary about hepatitis B. He had decided early that he wanted to focus on the people who suffer from it and the families that are affected by it, and was glad that he was given the freedom to make the documentary as he envisioned it.

With the film, Wong hopes that viewers will recognize that those who suffer from the disease are just like them. “They’re not people who live deviant lifestyles…it doesn’t affect just certain people but it can affect everybody,” he said, while adding that it is easy to get tested and screened.

Wong revealed that the challenge for him was not in taking on the project, but in finding people who wanted to tell their story of living with hepatitis B. He particularly wanted to honor the memory of AJ Jabonero, and make sure that “people are changed by his example and what happened to him.”

The director hopes to bring “Be About It” to the LA Asian Film Festival, to the DC APA Festival, and to festivals in New York, San Diego and other parts of the country.

For Melissa Jabonero, AJ’s widow, seeing the film was emotional and at the same time therapeutic for her.

Melissa hopes that the documentary brings down walls and educates people. “I hope this film breaks down the stigma that just because someone has Hep B you can’t be around that person, you can’t live a normal lifestyle, which is not true because we lived a normal, everyday lifestyle,” she said, while adding that she hopes the film will motivate people to get tested and to know where they stand.

Shawne Lopez, AJ’s sister who herself has hepatitis B, said she felt said so many emotions seeing the final version of the film: sad and heartbroken seeing how hepatitis B affected her brother in the film, but also proud that the film showed how her brother used his struggles and life lessons to help others.

Lopez revealed that for a while it was hard for her to talk to other people about living with hepatitis B except to medical practitioners after experiencing a negative, hard reaction from someone she was seeing before.

Although having children was a concern for her, Shawne, who has a 3-year-old son, said that it was lucky for her that they live in Alameda County where a case worker followed up with her and made sure her son was inoculated against hepatitis B.

“I hope this film starts a lot of dialogue about hepatitis B… bringing a lot of awareness to everyone… that we need to talk about it and not be ashamed of it,” Lopez said.

Shawne added that the formation of a support group living with hepatitis B would be helpful, especially since in the Asian Pacific Islander community, people tend to be introverted when it comes to diseases afflicting family members due to shame and embarrassment. “There are so many people out there who feel so alone because they can’t talk about it to their sister, their aunts, their cousin. Hopefully, as the generations come in and we get to talk more, we can start the dialogue and make the change within our culture and talk about things that we need to talk about,” she explained.

Fiona Ma told the Asian Journal that the documentary was “powerful,” and that it will “go a long way in telling audiences that it is important to know your status, that not everybody is testing so you have to take control of yourself and your body and ask your doctor to get tested specifically for hepatitis B.”

According to Ma, it is important to go to the right specialist. She revealed that there are medical professionals who don’t even know about hepatitis B in this day and age, and who may give someone an incorrect test. Ma says she now has a liver doctor who knows the disease, understands how to test properly and would help her if anything ever happens.

Ma agreed with Lopez’s assessment about the need for a support group. “I love that idea!” she exclaimed. “I’ve had people approach me thanking me and crying that  they thought they were an outcast, that they could not have relationships… they were scared to go out because they just didn’t know. That’s been the stigma for so long… people do get scared when they know you have hepatitis B. Having a support network is an excellent idea.” 

(For more information on hepatitis B, please visit www.sfhepbfree.org. You can also talk to your doctor and/or healthcare provider on getting tested for hepatitis B.)