The Real Reason Julia Child Became An AIDS Activist - Exclusive

The just-released documentary "Julia" (see the trailer on YouTube) brilliantly captures the extraordinary life of Julia Child, detailing her numerous groundbreaking achievements in the culinary world. While the reverence that co-directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West exhibit towards their larger-than-life subject is undeniable, the film avoids being a hagiography. "What we are trying to do is get beyond the characterization of Julia Child and really figure out, what made this woman tick," West told Mashed during an exclusive interview with both directors. "Like, who was she? How did she become the Julia Child that we all know?"

Just like every single human that has ever walked this earth, Child had her flaws, and "Julia" explores a particularly unsavory chapter in the food icon's life. "Biographers have written that Julia was, in the 1970s, kind of homophobic," said West. "[Child] would talk about homosexuals in a very insulting way. And we didn't shy away from that [in the film]."

Though the revelation may be hard to swallow, Child was ultimately able to find redemption in a significant way by getting involved with spreading awareness for the AIDS epidemic.

The turning point for Julia Child's AIDS activism

In the film, co-directors Cohen and West highlight Child's extremely close relationship with her lawyer Bob Johnson. While Johnson was gay, which was no secret to most of his inner circle, West noted that, "Julia just kind of was blind to the fact, like he would bring a girlfriend to parties and she would say, [in Julia Child voice] 'When are they going to get married?'"

It wasn't until Johnson was diagnosed with AIDS that Child became aware, and then was deeply moved and wanted to spread awareness for the epidemic. "She not only supported him, but then she realized that this was a horrible crisis, that people were suffering," West said. "And she went out of her way to support a movement for drugs and healthcare and research for AIDS." West talked about a benefit in Boston that Child took part in: "And you know, this was really early on when people weren't — when celebrities weren't — putting their reputations on the line to talk about AIDS. So, that was kind of an evolution. ... We didn't shy away from it one way or the other. We just told the story and we thought it was a pretty good story."

To learn about Julia Child's life in full, be sure to check out "Julia," which is in theaters now in Los Angeles, New York, and other select cities.