Juanita dctv

Juanita speaking as part of the 2019 event "THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING," produced by J Triangular for Visual AIDS at DCTV

Juanita Mohammed Szczepanski (1957–2022) was a prolific AIDS activist videomaker featured in our 2016 video program COMPULSIVE PRACTICE. Below, we share her final video work, created in collaboration with Alexandra Juhasz, as well as tributes from Jean Carlomusto and her husband Henry Szczepanski, and links to Juanita's videos and writing.

Visual AIDS thanks Alexandra Juhasz for organizing this tribute page.

A Legacy in Activism and Video: Juanita Szczepanski

By Alexandra Juhasz

I met Juanita Szczepanski in 1990. We were members of a group I had set into motion, the Women’s AIDS Video Enterprise (WAVE), by partnering with the Brooklyn AIDS Task Force, where she was an active volunteer. Together WAVE, a group of six women, made several seminal AIDS videos by and for urban women of color. We Care: A Video for Care Providers of People Affected by AIDS (1990) is the most well-known. It is accompanied, cradled, driven by a poem, “We Care,” written by Misery Dane (Juanita’s nom de plume) and read by the collective. The poem holds everything that brought me to Juanita, and kept us aligned as friends, collaborators, and activists for more than thirty years. It is frank, heartfelt, and expressive of a politics of radical acceptance and love. We care for people with AIDS. We care because people with AIDS are people like us. The poem, like Juanita, commands voice and agency for the everyday people who are rarely seen and heard in media—women, mothers, children, African Americans, people with AIDS, sex workers, BIPOC folks, the disabled. Misery Dane writes an analysis of power that is fundamentally committed to expression (through video, poetry, art), visibility, hope, and care. She wielded her camcorder as a tool of DIY power: first by claiming voice herself, and then extending representation into the worlds of family, neighborhood, and activist circles in which she lived.

Just so, as she moved into the final stages of her life, she planned a video as one route to a closure she wanted to control. She invited me to visit her at the Riverside Rehab Center in Manhattan in October 2022, where she was recuperating from several difficult bouts of COVID and the ongoing indignities of arthritis and kidney disease. Importantly, I had been here before. This is where I had attended her wedding to Henry Szczepanski just a few years previously. Once we caught up, she gave me her favorite camera and said it was time to shoot. Brought only recently to the facility for this purpose by one of her grandkids, her beloved camera proved to be missing its power cord. I could not get it to work. So I took out my phone and Juanita spoke. We share a DIY ethos. The beauty of our shared work is in the power of our friendship—across race and class and time—and the clarity of what we believe in and fight for. Only when making this video after her death with my editor Matthew Hittle, did I comprehend how rigorously her entire oration, and my participation in it, was organized. The last video we made together is one shared political and artistic vision committed to the power of people, as expressed by one beautiful, shining human, Juanita.

In fact, Juanita was so clear on what she needed to say that a few weeks later, in November 2022, she invited me for another visit so we could get our activist video work done. She was now at Coler Hospital on Roosevelt Island. After months of struggle, we had succeeded in getting Henry into this facility as well. The three of us joked, talked about the food (Juanita really liked the banana pie, but not much else), and revisited Juanita’s choice to stop dialysis and move toward death. Then, Juanita shared a few points on camera that had been missing from our earlier shoot. I understood what she wanted in the video—a recorded legacy of how she had learned and enacted righteousness and power in her life, in her community, and through video—but I wanted to be sure I understood what she planned for its use.

I would like it shown on cable, or in some kind of library setting, or a community setting…

Thank you to Visual AIDS for honoring this wish and providing this perfect site for the legacy of an activist and artist who gave so much to the AIDS and so many other communities.

The Intimate Activism of Juanita Mohammed Szczepanski

by Jean Carlomusto

Juanita Mohammed Szczepanski’s body of work investigates the intersections between overlooked and under-appreciated populations: women, children, people of color, HIV/AIDS and the LGBTQ community. Her important videos are intimate stories made in collaboration with her featured participants.

In her final work, a collaborative video made with Alexandra Juhasz, Juanita tells of a discovery she made early on, when she first started doing work around HIV/AIDS. “I had a specialty—I made people feel comfortable talking to me.” With a lovely smile and open caring face, Juanita did indeed have a special quality. When she began volunteering at the Multimedia Unit at GMHC, a unit I supervised at the time, she would tell us about the people she’d met and the way their lives had been impacted by HIV/AIDS. Fortunately she went on to tell their stories in her videos.


TWO MEN AND A BABY (1992) stands out as one of her most compelling videos. In it, Juanita collaborates with a couple, Ray Brown and Tyrone Ayers, who share the heart wrenching story of how they came to be the adoptive parents of Eric, an infant with HIV. Little Eric was the child of Ray’s sister who recently died of AIDS. She left Eric in the care of her brother and Tyrone, as she knew they would take good care of him, and she was wise to do so. Juanita’s portrait of Ray and Tyrone is an intimate glimpse into the everyday lives of two gay men caring for a baby with AIDS.


In HOMOSEXUALS: ONE CHILD’S POV (1991), it is clear from the name of the production company, Mother Daughter Productions, that Juanita is collaborating with her daughter, Jazzy. Indeed, Juanita facilitates her daughter’s cris de coeur on homosexuality and acceptance. As the title indicates, this is Jazzy’s POV, and she is the director, as well. At one point, Jazzy interviews a friend on how he feels about homosexuals. “I hate them,” he replies, and devolves into a homophobic riff. Jazzy cringes, looking at the camera in disgust. “Mother,” says Jazzy, “please turn off the camera.” Even though the interview is over, Jazzy and Juanita leave the exchange in and thus lay bare the bald face of the casual homophobia that so many of us have come to experience with family and friends. The collaborative intimacy of this mother/daughter team is palpable.

Juanita and jazzy in drag

Juanita was one of the most unique, funny, and outlandish people with whom I’ve have had the good fortune to work. She enjoyed catching you off-guard. I remember the time she showed me a photo of her husband and son, and I remarked on the family resemblance. She doubled over laughing at my gullibility and told me I’d been punked. The photo was from a drag workshop she and her daughter had done that weekend. Mind you, this was in the early 1990s and mother/daughter drag kings weren’t exactly the rage.

Juanita was a remarkable woman, way ahead of her time. She used her video camera not only to highlight ignorance and hate, but also as a bright pointer towards knowledge, kindness, family, and empowerment.

Remembering a Love

by Henry Szczepanski

My name is Henry Szczepanski. I met Juanita online, January 10, 2010. I guess you can say my life had begun on that day. Juanita Imran (then) had a unique sense of humor that matched mine. As I began to know her, I noticed her zest for life seemed infectious. Like all women at times she was opinionated and was not afraid to let you know. But with all that, her heart was truly 14 karat gold.

Juanita loved to help people; if she heard of a problem she wanted to be the first one to fix it. How does a man realize this girl is the one for him? For me, she was a truck that struck me, and as I was laid up in the hospital, she came to see me at two in the morning, traveling from Brooklyn to Manhattan. I knew she was the one for me. With the passage of time our bond grew stronger. Eventually we married and planned to grow old together. I jokingly made a comment stating, “I found a woman stupid enough to take my name”… thank goodness for stupid people… I love you honey.

Unfortunately her health deteriorated. In a way, my life also subsequently ended November 27, 2022; the day my wife Juanita died.

My life seems empty without her. I miss her infectious laughter, her warm smile, and a million things that made me laugh. Juanita brought the best things out of me; parts I didn't even know I had. I loved making her laugh and we laughed everyday. I going to miss that. I don't think I'm going to laugh ever again.

Before she died, she wanted me to find somebody. My answer: how can you replace your soulmate? I can't do that. By doing that I feel that it would undermine our love we had for each other. My question is this: can a man love so much, do anything and everything for the woman he loves; and forgets how to live without her? Let me know… I would like to know the answer to that question.

When Juanita reaches her destination and is reunited with her sister, I hope she meets my parents so that she can tell them what kind of man I became.

Videography and Bibliography

Videos by Juanita

For information about screening Juanita's work, contact Alexandra Juhasz at Alexandra.Juhasz@brooklyn.cuny.edu.

  • Love and Intimacy for People with Disabilities (L.A.I.D. Network), 2019 (link)
  • Juanita Mohammed in COMPULSIVE PRACTICE, 2016 (link)
  • A Part of Me, for GMHC's Living with AIDS, c. 1992 (link)
  • Two Men and a Baby, c. 1992 (link)
  • Homosexuality: One Child's Point of View, 1990 (link)
  • We Care: A Video for Care Providers of People Affected by AIDS, 1990 (link)
  • A WAVE Taster, 1990 (link)
  • WAVE Self Portraits, 1990 (link)
Juanita Speaking
  • Collective Visions: The Past, Present, and Future of Feminist Media, 2020 (link)
    • Program 1, Intergenerational conversations (link)
    • Juanita Szczepanski and Pharah Diaz in Conversation (link)
  • Black Lives Matter - Stay Open to Contradictions and Power #offline, 2020 (link)
  • THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING Episode 4: MAYBE I HAVE AIDS, dir. J. Triangular, 2019 (link)
  • COMPULSIVE PRACTICE panel at the Brooklyn Museum, 2016 (link)
    • On accessibility and social justice activism (link)
    • On collaborative women's AIDS activism (link)
    • On compulsive video making (link)
  • Women of Vision: 18 Histories in Feminist Film and Video, dir. Alexandra Juhasz, 1998 (link)

  • “Brick Walls Falling from the Wall that Sex Built: A Mother/Son Conversation,” Juanita Imran and Shah Mohammed, Corpus 4:1 (Spring 2006). (link)
  • “Knowing Each Other through AIDS Video: A Dialogue Between AIDS Activist Videomakers,” Alexandra Juhasz and Juanita Mohammed, Connected: Engagements with Media, George Marcus, ed. University of Chicago Press, 1996. (link)
  • Women of Vision: Histories in Feminist Film and Video, Alexandra Juhasz, University of Minnesota Press, 2001. (link)
  • Juanita's memorial booklet (link)