Philadelphia is a 1993 American drama film and one of the first mainstream Hollywood films to acknowledge HIV/AIDS,homosexuality, and homophobia. It was written by Ron Nyswaner, directed by Jonathan Demme and stars Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington.
Hanks won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Andrew Beckett in the film, while the song "Streets of Philadelphia" byBruce Springsteen won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Nyswaner was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, but lost to Jane Campion for The Piano.
Andrew Beckett is a senior associate at the largest corporate law firm in Philadelphia. Although he lives with his partner Miguel Álvarez, Beckett is not open about his homosexuality at the law firm, nor the fact that he has AIDS. On the day he is assigned the firm's newest and most important case, one of the firm's partners notices a small lesion on Beckett's forehead. Shortly thereafter, Beckett stays home from work for several days to try to find a way to hide his lesions. While at home, he finishes the complaint for the case he has been assigned and then brings it to his office, leaving instructions for his assistants to file the complaint in court on the following day, the end of the statute of limitations for the case. Beckett suffers from bowel spasms at home and is rushed to the hospital. Later that morning, while still at the ER, he receives a frantic call from the firm asking for the complaint, as the paper copy cannot be found and there are no copies on the computer's hard drive. However, the complaint is finally discovered and is filed with the court at the last minute. The following day, Beckett is dismissed by the firm's partners, who had previously referred to him as their "buddy", but now question his professional abilities in light of the misplaced document.
Beckett believes that someone deliberately hid his paperwork to give the firm a pretext to fire him, and that the firing is actually as a result of his diagnosis with AIDS. He asks several attorneys to take his case, including personal injury lawyer Joe Miller, with whom he had worked on a previous case. Miller, who is admittedly homophobic and knows little about AIDS, initially declines to take the case and immediately visits his doctor to find out if he could have contracted AIDS through shaking Beckett's hand. The doctor explains the methods of HIV infection. The doctor then offers to take a sample of Miller's blood, suspecting that Miller was asking about AIDS because he suspected he had contracted it and was trying to hide it. Miller dismisses the request by laughing it off, taking it as a joke. Unable to find a lawyer willing to represent him, Beckett is compelled to act as his own attorney. While researching a case at a law library, Miller sees Beckett at a nearby table. After a librarian announces that he has found a book on AIDS discrimination for Beckett, others in the library begin to first stare and then move away, and the librarian suggests Beckett retire to a private room. Disgusted by their behavior, Miller approaches Beckett and reviews the material he has gathered. Upon receiving a summons, the head of the firm, Charles Wheeler, worries about the damage the lawsuit could do to his business and reputation, although one partner unsuccessfully tries to convince them to settle out of court with Beckett.
As the case goes before the court, Wheeler takes the stand, claiming that Beckett was incompetent and claiming that he had deliberately tried to hide his condition. The defense repeatedly suggests that Beckett had invited his illness through promiscuity and was therefore not a victim. In the course of testimony, it is revealed that the partner who had noticed Beckett's lesion had previously worked with a woman who had contracted AIDS after a blood transfusion and so would have recognized the lesion as relating to AIDS.
During cross-examination, Beckett admits that he was originally planning to tell his law colleagues that he was gay, but changed his mind after hearing them make homophobic jokes in the sauna of a health club. When asked about the truth of how he got infected, he confirms that he engaged in anonymous sex with another man at a pornographic movie theater.
To prove that the lesions would have been visible, Miller asks Beckett to unbutton his shirt while on the witness stand, revealing that his lesions were indeed visible and recognizable as such.
Beckett collapses during Wheeler's testimony. During his hospitalization, the jury votes in his favor, awarding him back pay, damages for pain and suffering, and punitive damages totaling more than $5M. Miller visits Beckett in the hospital after the verdict and overcomes his fear enough to touch Beckett's face. After Beckett's family leaves the room, he tells Miguel that he is ready to die. Later, Miller receives word that Beckett has died. At a reception following the funeral, mourners, including the Millers, view home movies of Beckett as a child.
- Tom Hanks as Andrew Beckett
- Denzel Washington as Joe Miller
- Jason Robards as Charles Wheeler
- Antonio Banderas as Miguel Álvarez
- Joanne Woodward as Sarah Beckett
- Robert W. Castle as Bud Beckett
- Mary Steenburgen as Belinda Conine
- Ann Dowd as Jill Beckett
- Charles Napier as Judge Lucas Garnett
- Roberta Maxwell as Judge Tate
- Buzz Kilman as Crutches
- Karen Finley as Dr. Gillman
- Robert Ridgely as Walter Kenton
- Bradley Whitford as Jamey Collins
- Ron Vawter as Bob Seidman
- Anna Deavere Smith as Anthea Burton
- Tracey Walter as Librarian
- Julius Erving as himself
- Ed Rendell as himself
- Chandra Wilson as Chandra
- David Drake as Bruno
- Roger Corman as Mr. Laird
The events in the film are similar to the events in the lives of attorneys Geoffrey Bowers and Clarence B. Cain.
Bowers was an attorney who in 1987 sued the law firm Baker & McKenzie for wrongful dismissal in one of the first AIDS discrimination cases. Cain was an attorney for Hyatt Legal Services who was fired after his employer found out he had AIDS. He sued Hyatt in 1990 and won just before his death.
Bowers' family sued the writers and producers. A year after Bowers's death, producer Scott Rudin interviewed the Bowers family and their lawyers and, according to the family, promised compensation for the use of Bowers's story as a basis for the film. Family members asserted that 54 scenes in the movie are so similar to events in Bowers's life that some of them could only have come from their interviews. However, the defense said that Rudin abandoned the project after hiring a writer and did not share any information the family had provided. The lawsuit was settled after five days of testimony. Although terms of the agreement were not released, the defendants did admit that "the film 'was inspired in part'" by Bowers's story.
Jonathan Demme has stated that he was moved to direct the film after a friend of his, the illustrator Juan Suarez Botas, was diagnosed with AIDS.
The film was the second Hollywood big-budget, big-star film to tackle the issue of AIDS in the U.S. (following the TV movie And the Band Played On) and signaled a shift in Hollywood films toward more realistic depictions of gays and lesbians. According to a Tom Hanks interview for the 1996 documentary The Celluloid Closet, scenes showing more affection between him and Banderas were cut, including one with him and Banderas in bed together. The DVD edition, produced by Automat Pictures, includes this scene.
The film won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Tom Hanks), and Best Original Song (Bruce Springsteen for "Streets of Philadelphia"). Tom Hanks also won theSilver Bear for Best Actor at the 44th Berlin International Film Festival.
It was also nominated for another Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Philadelphia" (Neil Young), as well as Best Makeup (Carl Fullerton and Alan D'Angerio), and Best Original Screenplay (Ron Nyswaner).
The film was ranked #20 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers.
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