Packer Park resident produces new web series surrounding HIV

Charlese Hawkins-Hatton recently won an award with PhillyCAM for her new series “STAGES.”

Charlese Hawkins-Hatton recently won an award with PhillyCAM for her new series “STAGES.” Above: Hawkins-Hatton winning the Inclusion Award last month. (Photo by Brianna Spause/Courtesy of PhillyCAM)

Packer Park resident Charlese Hawkins-Hatton can’t be categorized exclusively as a “right-brained” or “left-brained” thinker. 

Considering she has master’s degrees in both film studies and health administration, it’s safe to assume she employs both the analytical and artistic sides of her thought process.

Recently, Hawkins-Hatton, who works in the cardiology department of Penn Medicine, received the 2019 CAMMY Inclusion Award with PhillyCAM for her film project “STAGES,” an online dramatic miniseries following three women connected by an HIV diagnosis.

Currently a 35-minute pilot episode, “STAGES,” which was filmed around the Philadelphia region last year, aims to defy stigmas about the virus in a contemporary context, as the disease was widely regarded as a death sentence in the 1980s and 1990s. 

“The world is changing,” Hawkins-Hatton said. “We’re becoming a little bit more tolerant of controversial subject matter, having that juxtaposition of, ‘Yes, we can look at what it was, but let’s look at where it is now.’ ”

Now streaming on YouTube, “STAGES” is the first product of Hawkins-Hatton’s Prime Act Media, a production company whose mission includes elevating the presence of creative middle-aged and elderly individuals. 

Two years ago, Hawkins-Hatton established the production organization amidst an uncertainty of where the future would lead her both in medicine and moviemaking.  

Somewhere at the crossroads, though, she discovered her niche. 

“That’s where I found my creative voice,” Hawkins-Hatton said. “The experiences that I’ve had working in healthcare kind of informed the pieces I write and the things that interest me.” 

After growing up in Lakewood, New Jersey, she started on a pre-medical track at Hampton University, where she received her undergraduate degree in biology.

During her sophomore year, though, Hawkins-Hatton joined the university’s literary and film society. Untapping a zeal for creativity eventually led to her decision to swap medical school for film school, as she was accepted into New York University Tisch School of the Arts. 

For two years, she studied at the college’s satellite campus in Singapore, where she further fostered script-writing skills.

“It just broadened my take on the world,” she said. “It opened my eyes to possibilities.” 

Upon returning home, Hawkins-Hatton decided to pursue a master’s in health administration after hitting a creative lull. But, this unexpectedly ended after meeting a fellow parishioner at Mount Enon Baptist Church at 5th Street and Snyder Avenue. 

Though the churchgoer had HIV, she was living a seemingly ordinary life. 

“Really, there is no face of HIV,” Hawkins-Hatton said. “It can be any one of us, but the stigma has to stop, and I think it’ll stop if we see more positive representations of people who do live with HIV – that they still have lives. It’s not a death sentence.” 

This encounter would come to serve as the impetus for “STAGES” as, soon, Hawkins-Hatton delved into HIV research.

Through her findings, she wanted to produce a project that would debunk misconceptions and shed light on emotional aspects attached to the disease. 

Viewing the vision through a creative lens, Hawkins-Hatton thought a fictional dramatic piece would most effectively tell this story.

“I was trying to appeal to today’s climate,” she said. “Everyone just wants to watch television…If you want to reach a bigger mass of people, my philosophy is put it in a show. People love drama these days, so if you put it in a dramatic format, you can still stay true to the message you want to get across and you can put the facts in there but adding that fictional element kind of draws people in.” 

After holding auditions last year, the project cast local actresses to portray the leads, as the narrative follows three women in separate stages of their lives forging a friendship in light of an HIV diagnosis. 

From August to September of 2018, Hawkins-Hatton and her production crew shot throughout the city and neighboring suburbs. 

Some scenes were even filmed in her neighborhood of Packer Park. 

In revealing the realities of HIV, Hawkins-Hatton crafted the narrative in a particular format. 

“I wanted to represent, what I feel, are kind of like the three stages of life,” Hawkins-Hatton said. “You have birth. You have the actual living part and then you have what’s inevitable, which is death.”

This concept speaks to the greater mission of Prime Act Media, which strives to give creative opportunities to folks in their second and even third acts of life.

Between working with elders in the healthcare field while also considering herself a “late bloomer” in moviemaking, Hawkins-Hatton thinks this is a population that needs a particular dose of encouragement, especially considering, what some may see as, ageism in Hollywood.

“As people get older, it seems like there are less resources, less access to things and sometimes, it almost feels like – once you hit a certain age, you’re forgotten,” she said. “I think that’s why a lot of people don’t want to talk about aging, don’t want to get older or do as much as they can to stay young.” 

Hawkins-Hatton will resume weaving this idea into the rest of “STAGES,” which she says will eventually conclude with a few more episodes. 

While finishing writing for the series, she’s also starting a lifestyle talk show with PhillyCAM in December called “Better with Age,” which is oriented toward females more than 50 years old. 

Whether highlighting HIV patients or women of a certain age, Hawkins-Hatton’s creativity continues to encompass a recurring thought. 

“I wanted to emphasize the theme of, ‘It’s never too late to start fresh,’ ” she said.

To watch the pilot of “STAGES,” visit: 

Twitter: @gracemaiorano