“Philadelphia” was the first film I watched whose theme explores  HIV/AIDShomosexuality, and homophobia in poignant, sensitive and educative ways back in the early 90s when I was just a teenager and barely understood the things in life. This film was enlightening so that I could understand the myths and truths about this sad virus and its consequences for the victims – either by the effects of the disease on the body or, by the effects of prejudice, ignorance and disrespect that the population with the virus were exposed to.

“Philadelphia” is a 1993 American legal drama film written by Ron Nyswaner, directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington that has the merit of being the first mainstream Hollywood film about the disease. It was the first major Hollywood film—three years after the indie movie “Longtime Companion” and seven years after “Parting Glances”—to deal with the impact of HIV and AIDS on gay people. 

The movie revolves around Andrew Beckett, a homosexual Philadelphian lawyer who is fired by his company after they discover he has AIDS. They claim they dismissed him for incompetence at work, so he hires a hotshot lawyer to defend him in a suit against them. To intensify Beckett’s conflict, the lawyer he hires, Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), is homophobic and harbours misconceptions about the disease. However, during their journey, Miller learns from Andrew and comes to respect him, especially when he understands through his own experiences as a black man who suffers racism what is to be subject of injustice, stigma, preconception and prejudice.

Demme fills his heartfelt drama with accomplished actors, from Hanks (who pulls off an opera-appreciation scene that lesser actor would have fumbled) and Washington to Jason Robards, as the firm’s bigoted boss, and Antonio Banderas as Andrew’s companion.

“Philadelphia” left a legacy to the LGBTQIA+ community. It was hailed as a landmark movie. At the time, there was such impatience for political and cultural change, for mainstream representations of LGBTQIA+ lives and loves on screen, and for recognition of the devastating impact that AIDS had caused on gays lives. Demme got it! He played a fundamental role in contemporary society to make people respect the gay community.

Tom Hanks playing the major role as Andrew Beckett won his first Best Actor Academy Oscar. Hanks’s sympathetic and passionate performance is outstanding and worthy of bringing the statuette at home. 

The song “Streets of Philadelphia” by Bruce Springsteen captures Beckett’s dramatic and fighting story and it’s just a stunning part of this movie. The soundtrack won the Academy Award for Best Original Song

The writer Ron Nyswaner was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, but lost to Jane Campion for “The Piano.   

The events in the film are similar to the events in the lives of attorneys Geoffrey Bowers and Clarence 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.

Check out the trailer

Check out the song “Streets of Philadelphia”