In 1988, Kevin Burns began volunteering with the Philadelphia-nonprofit Action AIDS. The stigma against those with the disease was so great that many HIV-positive people could not remember when someone besides Burns had given them a hug. Burns had trouble finding funeral directors even willing to bury the bodies of those whose lives had been claimed by AIDS.

In 1993, the film Philadelphia shared the story of AIDS through the lens of an inflicted lawyer portrayed by Tom Hanks. Part of the movie was filmed at Action AIDS, with HIV-positive clients serving as extras. 

“It helped them feel like their message was being memorialized,” Burns recalls. “A lot of them knew they were dying, so it was their way to make a difference in the epidemic and a statement on discrimination.”

Today, Burns continues to be an advocate with Action AIDS (now, Action Wellness) as the organization’s executive director. Though society’s understanding of the illness has changed, the fight against the disease remains critically important and the human-centered story of Philadelphia has ongoing resonance.

Despite all the progress made to date, every two minutes a teenager is infected with HIV, yet the disease is preventable. AIDS is the leading cause of death among women worldwide, yet it is treatable. Antiretroviral drugs, which both protect HIV-infected individuals and prevent further transmission, cost only 20 cents a day.

That’s why Meaghan Condon, partnership director at (RED), believes that with the necessary resources, the first AIDS-free generation is within reach.

In recognition that the fight against AIDS cannot be forgotten, Burns and Condon joined actor Keiynan Lonsdale and award-winning director Kim A. Snyder this week for a panel discussion in Philadelphia. The Coca-Cola-hosted panel commemorated the 25th anniversary of Philadelphia and marked the release of Snyder’s featurette film, "The Last Mile,” made in partnership with Coca-Cola and (RED).

Coca-Cola celebrates 25th anniversary of “Philadelphia” with “The Last Mile”
Kim A. Snyder, Meaghan Condon, Kevin Burns and Keiynan Lonsdale discuss the making of 'The Last Mile' and the importance of continuing the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Michael Perez/Invision for The Coca-Cola Company/AP Images

The featurette is inspired by the significant progress made in the fight against HIV/AIDS since the release of Philadelphia and examines how the hit movie significantly impacted the narrative around the illness in mainstream America. The story is woven together with the incredible journey of a heroic mother in Mozambique who collects and delivers life-saving medicine for her community via Coca-Cola’s Project Last Mile initiative.

Project Last Mile is a partnership between The Coca-Cola Company, the Global Fund, USAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that uses Coca-Cola’s vast distribution system to bring life-saving medicines and supplies to hard-to-reach communities across Africa.

In the spirit of the human-side of AIDS shared through Philadelphia, Snyder hopes her film will remind viewers of those who continue to be impacted by the illness. “I am a huge, huge believer in the power of story because I’ve seen it change people’s hearts and minds,” she says.

“You take a film that came out 25 years ago based here in Philadelphia and connect it to women who are today living in Mozambique,” Condon reflects. “It’s so powerful to really understand the sameness of all of us.”