Jun 28, 2013

[Movies] Philadelphia (1993)

If we're going to talk about mainstream movies that helped advance the LGBT cause - or at least increase awareness, then you can't not talk about Philadelphia. And this was the great trifecta of gay issues in a single Hollywood movie. It tackled the HIV / AIDS epidemic. It acknowledged homosexuality. And of course homophobia, especially in the work place.

I remember seeing this movie in my much younger years and not fully understanding the complex themes of the movie. At the very least, it was sort of explained to me what AIDS is. Just not quite how you can possibly get it - just the fact that there is no cure. And that's a pretty scary thing to consider at any age.

These days, it's hard to find a gay movie that doesn't involve HIV / AIDS in some way. But at the very least there's always the effort to make sure they still tell true stories - tales that illustrate the struggle of those who live with HIV without demonizing them. And I'm pretty sure that many movies - and many gay men in general - have a lot to thank this movie for. It has certainly left a rather lasting impression on Hollywood.

Synopsis: Philadelphia is a 1993 LGBT drama movie directed by Jonathan Demme with a screenplay by Ron Nyswaner. The movie won a number of awards including the Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Original Song.

Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) is a closeted senior associate at a major Philadelphia law firm. He has a live-in partner, Miguel (Antonio Banderas) and keeps his homosexuality secret - along with the fact that he's living with AIDS. But just when he's assigned one of the biggest cases of the firm, a colleague notices that he has a lesion on his forehead. Thus Andrew calls in sick as he tries to find a way to hide his lesions and continue working.

He completes his case work from home and finally delivers the formal complaint to the office for his assistants to file in court. But just as he's rushed to the ER for some medical complications, he gets an emergency call from his office. The hardcopy of the complain is missing nor is a copy of the file anywhere on his computer's hard drive. And while the complaint is found at the very last minute, this eventually leads to the firm dismissing him . Given the rather suspicious circumstances around the missing papers, and thus Andrew is convinced that this is actually because of his condition, and he seeks out a lawyer who will take his case.

At its core, this is the sort of movie that takes you through a big legal case for an underdog. But what conflicted more than a few viewers was the very nature of our protagonist as a gay man living with HIV / AIDS. And that conflict in the viewers (at least for the time period when it was released) is part of what makes this movie such an interesting adventure in entertainment.

It goes without saying that Tom Hanks is rather amazing in this movie. He doesn't resort to becoming a caricature of a gay man. He just tries to bring a honest enough depiction of a man in pain and has had an injustice done to him. And that's the point of the story after all - not to get distracted by the fact that he's gay but more than he was wrongfully terminated because of his medical condition. And this was a truly valid issue at the time given the general lack of knowledge about how HIV was transmitted. Not that people living with HIV today aren't free of discrimination either. And while it was fortunate for Andrew to have such a loving and supportive partner in Miguel (go Banderas!) this was still a fight that needed to be fought.

The trial scenes are heartbreaking - they bring us through key scenarios that end up mirroring common situations for either closeted gay men or individuals dealing with the stigma of HIV. And this was stressed further by the irony of Andrews eventual attorney, Joe Miller (Denzel Washington). It took Joe a while to decide to take the case, what more become fully comfortable with the fact that Andrew had AIDS. And thus even in their little scenes together they go through the usual fears about being in the same room as a man with HIV and the constant fear of infection. It was just a completely different time.

Things haven't completely changed since then. There's a lot that needs to be done to remove the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS. But this movie was a key step forward - a key element that helped raise awareness around this particular issue. And while I doubt there are specific numbers that indicate this, I don't think anyone can deny the importance of the movie until today.

Philadelphia is a powerful drama that addresses key issues in a manner that is open, honest and direct. It does things in a manner that drives the reality home for the viewers. And that's why this movie is part of my LGBT Pride month celebration posts. The movie itself gets 5 striking moments between Hanks and Banderas out of a possible 5.

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