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October 31, 2005

Rosario Dawson: From Tenement to Tinseltown

The East Village, NYC, neighborhood where Rosario Dawson grew up was filled with sickness, poverty and suffering. She lived in a tenement house. Friends suffered from HIV/AIDS. It's no wonder she nails her star turn as Mimi in the new film version of Rent, which, in many ways, takes Rosario back to her roots.

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Rosario Dawson

Photo Credit: Matthew Rolson

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For Rosario Dawson, starring in the film version of the blockbuster Broadway show Rent is like returning to her roots. The story tracks the lives of a group of young artists living in a tenement in New York's East Village, trying to define themselves against the backdrop of HIV/AIDS and poverty. Dawson easily related to the struggles of her lead character, Mimi. "You just don't realize how much of your childhood you hold on to until you explore it from a different perspective," she says. "I grew up in a squatter's apartment." At age 6, Dawson moved with her then-22-year-old mother and 2- year-old brother into an abandoned, fire-damaged building ‑- with no electricity or running water. "On the first day of shooting Rent, we were on the corner that I lived on," she says.

Dawson grew up around people with HIV/AIDS, and she knew its alienating effects. But when it touched her beloved "Uncle Frank," an artist friend of her mother's, it really hit home. "I would share my food with Frank," Dawson recalls, "and he would just cry, 'My family and friends never do that with me, because they're afraid of being contaminated.' I was just 7 years old, and I knew I couldn't get AIDS that way."

HIV/AIDS is also the reason that Dawson has come here today, to Pony Power of New Jersey @ Three Sisters Farm, where she and several teenagers are spending the day horseback riding. Reggie, Joslin, Anthony and Janelle are all affected by HIV/AIDS in some personal way ‑- law prevents us from detailing specifically ‑- and although their stories differ, the kids share a bond. Dawson has come to Pony Power with them because it offers a therapeutic riding program. "It gets people in touch with their bodies through relaxing, warm, rhythmic movements," explains Dana Spett, who founded the program.


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