Silence = Death focuses on New York City’s ravaged art community at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis. It is one of three in a trilogy of documentary films created by Rosa von Praunheim: Silence = Death, Positive, and Fire Under Your Ass.
Throughout the film, Praunheim’s collaborator, filmmaker Phil Zwickler, conducts blunt interviews of peers and politicians, such as graffiti artist Keith Haring, longing for carefree days; painter Rafael Gamba, calling out homophobic bigotry; poet Allen Ginsberg, musing on sexual attitudes; and Mayor Ed Koch. The film also features David Wojnarowicz extensively, as he calls out society for its bias against AIDS victims via his readings, paintings, and films.
Silence = Death opened in New York with a five-minute short by David and Zwickler, entitled Fear of Disclosure, that encouraged the gay community to practice safe sex as the plague raged.