Since Priyanka Chopra got hitched to Nick Jonas earlier this year, she’s been digging deep and getting thoughtful about where her life is going, and about the power they have to do good in the world. “I was like, ‘Oh, something’s shifted, this is the family I chose,’” she told ELLE.com at the Cannes Film Festival. “It’s made me sit back and think about myself as a woman, where I’m going, what I’m doing, what my priorities are.”
One constant priority for Chopra has been raising awareness about issues that she’s invested in. At Cannes, the actress was promoting 5B, Paul Haggis and Dan Krauss’s documentary about the San Francisco General Hospital ward devoted to patients with HIV/AIDS, which began operating in the 1980s. “We’re the means to an end,” she said of her celebrity status. “I’ve always seen myself, as a public person, as a conduit to be able to do that.”
Jonas has personally partnered with five charities, and he and his brothers have donated over $1 million to their Change for the Children Foundation, while Chopra has worked extensively with UNICEF. Now, the couple hope to use their powers for good together. “I’ve been an independent girl running around the world, and now I have a person that’s my family, and we think as a unit,” she said. “Both of us do it. And I think it was all of that that made me really introspective, and to think about what I want the next 20 years of my life to be, and where I’m going to go. I’ve never been a planner, so I don’t want to plan this time either, but [I] will be curious to see.”
5B takes us back to 1983, when an epidemic of the disease originally dubbed “gay cancer” first spread. Thanks to the ignorance surrounding the illness, early patients were so feared that hospital staff declined to work with them; no one would even clear their food trays in the hospital. Showing footage of desperately ill patients who needed care and compassion rather than censure, the film gives a first-person account of those times from the point of view of nurses who fought to create a special ward—5B—for the patients, and a care plan, despite not knowing then how the disease was spread.
Working with AIDS charity RED, Chopra wants to remind us that “the AIDS crisis still exists and needs a lot of work, and a lot of help.” Currently around a thousand women are infected with HIV every single day. She’s also keen to spread the message of the nurses who cared for the suffering. “Kindness doesn’t discriminate,” she said, comparing their work to that of famed humanitarian Mother Teresa of Calcutta. “They wanted to care for them, and show empathy, and that is a human quality.”
“I knew about leprosy in India, and how [it caused] a similar shunning,” Chopra said. “Mother Teresa arrived, and she was like, ‘I’m going to touch you, and I don’t care about what people think.’ That is those nurses. They are what gives an example to the world.”
AIDS is still prevalent in areas of extreme poverty, Chopra explained. “As a privileged society we’ve been able to control and manage the disease, and we know people who live with HIV. We don’t realize the stigma around the world that HIV still has. Most people don’t get tested, and disproportionately more women get infected with HIV than men do. We need to talk about the fact that AIDS is a huge part of our lives even now. And we, as a privileged society, need to take responsibility for the people who don’t have the ability to do that for themselves.”
5B will be in theaters on June 14.