The movie Philadelphia stared by Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington entails the story of Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) suing his old employers for firing him based on prejudice against his HIV + condition. Andrew is a senior associate at one of the largest corporate law firms in Philadelphia who’s asked to be the head lawyer in a major case for the firm. While he’s working on the case he’s dealing with the condition of being HIV + avoiding to come to work not to raise suspicions about his disease and his sexual orientation, that as far as he knew were unknown facts to the partners of the firm.
Once he gets back to the firm he’s fired over what seemed to be a boycott from someone in the firm, leading him to seek representation to sue the firm for firing based on prejudice. He contacts Mr. Joe Miller, a well-known attorney that at first declines the case based on his personal views over homosexuality and AIDS, but who eventually decides to take the case. During the trial it becomes evident that the prejudice against Andrew is not solely based on his HIV + status, but rather on his sexual orientation.
As the movie goes along we see Mr. Miller change his perception of Andrew, who he first thought to be a pervert into accepting him as a regular person with whom he developed some form of friendship with. Throughout the movie we watch Andrew lose his strength and vitality, till when right before the jury declares the verdict he needs to be taken to the hospital. The jury declares the firm guilty of committing prejudice and awards Andrew with a massive monetary compensation a few hours before Andrew passes away. Discussion :
Philadelphia takes place presumably between the late eighties early nineties when cases of AIDs were starting to come out but there were still a lot of misconceptions regarding the disease. Understanding the time period is a critical factor for understanding the whole intricacies and complexities of this movie. In a society in which was still common and socially acceptable to be discriminatory against LGBT individuals, in which gay jokes were abundant, and in which AIDS were spreading as a “gay disease” it is easier to understand where all characters come from and why do they present certain behaviors.
For anyone to say that Beckett was a coward who only raised a political flag over his sexuality when it came to favor him is not to understand the situation in which he lived. Andrew Beckett was for everyone in the firm a regular layer; he had social connections and a good reputation. Why would he even for a second put that in jeopardy to open up about his sexuality? He knew for a fact that despite the gay subject being more relevant and open it was still seeing as an immoral behavior by majority of society and that it would lead him to a dismissal.
The whole situation changes when he contracts AIDS and is faced with symptoms that are now visible. And although he had clearly come to terms with his own sexuality seeing that he had a stable partner and that he declares to have never lied about it, he tries as hard as he can to hide his health condition because it carried a strong connotation of sexual depravation around its stigma.
After he is fired Andrew has a tough time seeking legal representation; most people were still very ignorant regarding HIV+ and not a lot of layers would dare to go against one of the major legal firms to defend a “fag with AIDS”. One of the key moments of the movie is when Mr. Miller is in the library as he watches Andrew suffer clear discrimination based on his sickly appearance “Librarian: Sir, wouldn’t you be more comfortable in a study room? Andrew Beckett: No. Would it make you more comfortable? “ .
That is the moment that convinces Miller to go against his own prejudice and provide legal representation to this man who he despised and were disgusted by. Miller is the redemption character of this movie; He starts the movie as a rather judgmental homophobe”, because that was simply the reality of the time and he had little to no way of knowing any better. By interacting with Andrew, and facing homophobia in the streets due to the involvement with the case he admits his lack of knowledge and his close mindedness about the subject.
Miller brings his own baggage to the judicial court by attesting to the jury that he did understand why Andrew’s employers would have fired him over his disease/sexual orientation and that it was normal for that to happen, but that it just wasn’t legal. He acknowledges the general prejudice of society in order to question the legality of prejudice in a society guided by meritocracy. He goes even further by questioning the sexuality of one of the witnesses “Are you a homo? Are you a queer? Are you a faggot? Are you a fruit?
Are you *gay*, sir? ” Only to raise the point to the jury that in this day and time it would be naive to pretend that the case was merely about HIV + bias; the prejudice surrounding homosexuality was intrinsic to the AIDs stigma. People cared a lot for who sleeps with who and in that courtroom it was no different, so he decides to bluntly call it out so at least people are aware of the prejudice in the air. Discussion : Philadelphia was one of the first Hollywood movies to ever address the HIV +and gay stigma in such open discussion.
The movie is arguably an adaptation of the real case of Geoffrey Bower’s case against Baker & McKenzie for wrongful dismissal and is a political statement within American culture. Besides the remarkable acting quality of Tom Hanks, who won the Academy award for best actor in his role as Andrew Becker, the political aspect of this movie is undoubtedly its best quality. The movie brings to the common audience a subject that is very unknown and veiled for many throughout the US to question how a whole country is dealing with the stigma of disease.
The movie goes even further in addressing the legal issues of homosexual couples, as seeing in the scene of the hospital in which Miguel ( Antonio Banderas is dismissed by the nurse as she brings up the fact that he has no legal connection to Andrew. The movie presents on a very well developed scenario the relatable story of a man, who is no saint but also no devil, to help the American population to put a face and positive story behind the evil monster lurking in the dark they imagined AIDS as.
The movie was also immensely successful in putting together a memorable and emotional soundtrack, primarily in the famous scene in which Andrew, already in his last days, plays Opera for Miller and the whole scene bursts into an emotional roller-coaster in which you can feel his turmoil of emotions coming together. The artistic quality of the acting and the music bring the human and relatable quality to a very important yet dense political story that come together as a very emotional and relevant movie.