In And the Band Played On, Dr. James Curran works for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), serving as leader of the task force investigating the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Dr. Curran is the the supervisor of Dr. Don Francis, the film's protagonist. Curran has a more tempered approach to the CDC's efforts to address this epidemic. He is cautious and concerned about scientific accuracy and funding, in contrast to the impassioned idealism of Francis, who sees the AIDS/HIV crisis as a problem so urgent that rules can be broken in order to address it.
Where Dr. Francis is quick to act, concerned about the high mortality rate facing the gay community, Dr. Curran is more methodical, asking his team at the CDC, "All right, what do we think? What do we know? What can we prove?" Before they can move further in their studies and diagnoses—and receive more government funding to help address the problem—Dr. Curran emphasizes that he and the doctors have to be certain about their hypotheses about how the disease is transmitted. Dr. Francis finds this slow approach frustrating, interpreting Curran's cautious attention to detail as cold and lacking empathy or urgency. Dr. Curran, on the other hand, believes that in order to secure the funding necessary to address the epidemic, their research had to be meticulous due to the misunderstanding and stigmatization surrounding HIV and AIDS as a "gay cancer." With every idea about how the disease works that the team comes up with, Dr. Curran always counters by asking if it can be proven.
As the research team uncovers just how lethal the disease is, Dr. Curran proves hesitant to draw attention to their findings, fearing that their already scant funding would be cut because of the public controversy of the association of HIV/AIDS with gay men. When the team eventually discovers that the disease is sexually transmitted and could be contracted by anyone, not just gay men, Curran tells the media their these findings are inconclusive, hoping to stave off national panic. The film suggests that his approach delayed public health policy progress that could have increased awareness about the dangers of HIV/AIDS and saved more lives. Dr. Curran's role in the film highlights the conflicts within the CDC and within the government at large in addressing the epidemic.