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Academy Awards circa 1993


If a film has the ability to bring awareness of an important issue (that people don't really understand because of fear), then I think it has definitely achieved something phenomenal. 

Philadelphia won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Tom Hanks) and Best Song (Bruce Springsteen) for "Streets of Philadelphia".  It was inspired by the story of Geoffrey Bowers, an attorney who in 1987 sued a law firm for unfair dismissal in one of the first AIDS discrimination cases. When Jonathan Demme, having won the Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs, decided to direct a major studio film about AIDS, he took on the opportunity of making it into a movie mainstream audiences might actually come to see (and maybe even learn something about gay men, not just the stereotypes they already knew). It worked! This film's gay hero, Andrew Beckett, was listed on the American Film Institute AFI's list of the "Top 100 Heroes and Villains" in motion picture history.

In the movie we meet Andrew Beckett, a gay lawyer with AIDS, who's fired from his conservative law firm out of fear that they might get AIDS from him.  But it's more...they also don't like "fags" as we learn.  After Andrew's fired, in a last attempt for peace in his life, he decides to sue his former law firm...with the help of homophobic African American lawyer, Joe Miller (Denzel Washington).  During the court battle, Miller sees that Beckett is no different than anyone else and sheds his homophobia.

It's telling that concerns about offending straight mainstream audiences for the era had less to do with showing the horror of AIDS, and more to do with showing two men in love who are living a "normal" life together.  In the movie, Beckett's longtime lover Miguel Álvarez (played by Antonio Banderas) barely gets any scenes...just enough to let the audience know that these two are as happy and committed as any straight couple. In an interview for the 1996 documentary The Celluloid Closet, Mr. Hanks remarked that scenes showing more affection between him and Banderas were cut, including a scene showing him and Banderas in bed together (the DVD edition of the film includes that scene).  Especially great however is the portrait of Beckett's family, who's there to support him and his partner through the course of the difficult trial and his sickness Here's a family that is presented as a strong loving unit, something refreshing to see in a mainstream film with gay men.

If a film ever has the ability to open audiences' eyes to something like the early AIDS epidemic, to not gloss over its impact on society but to deal with the real fears of people honestly, and then to show that gay men are normal humans too, that is an accomplishment worth celebrating... and Philadelphia is that movie.