The Ryan White Story

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The Ryan White Story
The Ryan White Story Film 1989.jpg
UK VHS cover of "The Ryan White Story"
Genre Drama
Written by Phil Penningroth (story, teleplay)
John Herzfeld (teleplay)
Directed by John Herzfeld
Starring Lukas Haas
Judith Light
Theme music composer Mike Post
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
Executive producer(s) Alan Landsburg
Howard Lipstone
Producer(s) Linda Otto
Cinematography Steven Shaw
Editor(s) Robert Florio
Running time 105 minutes
Production company(s) Landsburg Company
Saban International
Distributor ABC
Original network ABC
Original release January 16, 1989 (1989-01-16)

The Ryan White Story is a 1989 television film starring Lukas Haas, and Judith Light, directed by John Herzfeld. The film first aired on the ABC network on January 16, 1989.

The film was based on the true story of the American teenager Ryan White, who became a national poster child for HIV/AIDS in the United States, after being expelled from middle school because of his infection.

Nielsen ratings estimated that the movie was seen by 15 million viewers on the original airing.[1]


The film stars Lukas Haas as Ryan White, Judith Light as his mother Jeanne and Nikki Cox as his sister Andrea. Others in the film included Sarah Jessica Parker as a sympathetic nurse, George Dzundza as his doctor, and George C. Scott as White's attorney, who legally argued against school board authorities.[2]

Some residents of Kokomo felt that the movie portrayed their entire town in an unfairly negative light. After the film aired, the office of Kokomo mayor Robert F. Sargent was flooded with complaints from across the country, although Sargent had not been elected to the office during the time of the controversy.[1][2]

In the film, the real life Ryan White made a cameo appearance as another hemophiliac AIDS sufferer named Chad.[3]

Today, the film remains available on out-of-print VHS (released in the UK only) as well as online services Hulu Plus and Netflix.[4]

The film's final scene was filmed at South Iredell High School in Statesville, North Carolina.[5]

The film's tagline reads "At 13, Ryan White has AIDS. This is his true story."[6]


Ryan White is a teenage hemophiliac who discovers he has contracted AIDS through contaminated blood products, and is then barred from attending school by Western School Corporation in Russiaville, Indiana, just outside Kokomo. Unfairly judged and emotionally abused by the community, Ryan and his mother engage the services of a high-powered attorney to win back his basic rights to attend school.[3]



The film received positive reviews from critics upon the original airing.[7] Hal Erickson of Allmovie gave the film four out of five stars and wrote "Despite its inherent sadness, The Ryan White Story is a celebration of an exceptional young human being whose short life touched so many others in a positive, uplifting manner."[8]

The New York Times gave the film a favorable review upon release, stating "Once again prime-time television entertainment is approaching the subject of AIDS through the case of a hemophiliac youth infected through a transfusion of tainted blood. The vast majority of AIDS patients are homosexuals and drug addicts, but television apparently is not ready to explore these groups with any degree of compassion. Innocent youngsters trapped by circumstances beyond their control provide far easier dramatic hooks for uplift exercises. Still, these stories are indeed heartbreaking and do serve as vehicles for exposing public ignorance and prejudice about AIDS. The Ryan White Story at 9 o'clock tonight on ABC is a good case in point. The key roles are more fleshed out and are handled remarkably well by Judith Light as Ryan's divorced, working mother, Nikki Cox as his kid sister Andrea, and Lukas Haas as Ryan. They hold the film together firmly as the unsettling story unfolds. It is a story not only about ignorance but also about an almost total lack of enlightened community leadership in the city of Kokomo. Residents are understandably concerned and frightened, but panic is allowed to take over. It is not a pretty story. Worse, it is a story that didn't have to happen. Ryan White's story is certainly worth telling."[2]


  1. ^ a b "Kokomo Mayor Swamped With Angry Calls Following Ryan White TV Movie". Associated Press. January 18, 1989. 
  2. ^ a b c O'Connor, John J (January 16, 1989). "Review/Television; AIDS and Hemophilia". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 14, 2010. Retrieved June 14, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b "The Ryan White Story Plot Summary and Details". Moviefone. Retrieved 2012-05-30. 
  4. ^ "The Ryan White Story [1989]: Lukas Haas, George C.Scott: Video". Retrieved 2012-05-30. 
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ The Bleeding Disease: Hemophilia and the Unintended Consequences of Medical ... - Stephen Pemberton - Google Books. 2011-05-25. Retrieved 2012-05-30. 
  8. ^ "The Ryan White Story - Cast, Reviews, Summary, and Awards". AllMovie. Retrieved 2012-05-30. 

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