“Philadelphia,” the first major Hollywood movie about AIDS, opens in theaters

“Philadelphia,” the first major Hollywood movie about AIDS, opens in theaters

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On December 23, 1993, Philadelphia, starring the actor Tom Hanks in the first major Hollywood movie to focus on the subject of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), opens in theaters. In the film, Hanks played Andrew Beckett, a gay attorney who is unjustly fired from his job because he suffers from AIDS. Denzel Washington co-starred as Joe Miller, a homophobic personal-injury lawyer who takes on Beckett’s case and comes to terms with his own misconceptions about gay people and the disease.

READ MORE: How AIDS Remained an Unspoken—But Deadly—Epidemic for Years

Directed by Jonathan Demme (Something Wild, The Silence of the Lambs) and featuring Antonio Banderas as Beckett’s boyfriend, Jason Robards as his boss and Joanne Woodward as his mother, Philadelphia was nominated for five Academy Awards and collected Oscars for Best Actor (Hanks) and Best Original Song (Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia”). During his Academy Award acceptance speech, Hanks thanked his high school drama teacher and a fellow classmate, calling them, “two of the finest gay Americans, two wonderful men that I had the good fortune to be associated with, to fall under their inspiration at such a young age.” Prior to Philadelphia, only a handful of smaller films, such as 1986’s Parting Glances and 1990’s Longtime Companion, had dealt with AIDS, which emerged as an epidemic in the early 1980s and was initially heavily stigmatized because it was perceived as a disease of gay people and drug users.

Before making Philadelphia, Hanks, who was born on July 9, 1956, in Concord, California, co-starred in the 1980s TV sitcom Bosom Buddies and rose to fame on the big screen with roles in Splash! (1984) and Big (1988), for which he received his first Best Actor Oscar nomination. Hanks followed his Best Actor win for Philadelphia with a second Best Actor Oscar for his performance in 1994’s Forrest Gump, in which he played a good-hearted man with a low I.Q. who winds up at the center of key cultural and historical events during the second half of the 20th century. With Forrest Gump, Hanks became only the second man, after Spencer Tracy, to win back-to-back Best Actor Oscars.

Hanks was also nominated for Academy Awards in the Best Actor category for his performances in director Steven Spielberg’s World War II drama Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Cast Away (2000), in which he starred as a man stranded on a deserted island. Among Hanks’ other movie credits are Sleepless in Seattle (1993), a romantic comedy co-starring Meg Ryan that was a huge box-office success; director Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 (1995), based on the true story of the ill-fated 1970 moon mission; You’ve Got Mail (1998), another popular romantic comedy co-starring Meg Ryan; The Green Mile (1999); Catch Me if You Can (2002); The Da Vinci Code (2006); Charlie Wilson’s War (2007); Cloud Atlas (2012), Bridge of Spies (2015); The Post (2017); and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019).

Hanks made his feature-film directorial debut with 1996’s That Thing You Do!, which he also wrote and starred in. He also co-executive produced (with Spielberg) and directed one episode of the acclaimed 2001 HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, also set during World War II.

AIDS on film and TV: Hollywood has released a variety of depictions of the pandemic in the last four decades

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or AIDS, has been depicted in Hollywood for decades, and, while the majority of the films, a number of them award-winning, have included deaths, some of the works have also infused comedy, insight and even musical numbers.

This list of nine is by no means exhaustive, but it does include films – all very Hollywood vs. documentary – that I have watched over the past four decades, some of them more than once and some of them absolutely unforgettable.

“An Early Frost” (1985)

The NBC movie is considered a landmark, as it is the first major film to dramatize the AIDS crisis in the U.S. Starring a young Aidan Quinn (remember him in “Desperately Seeking Susan” and “Legends of the Fall”?), Gena Rowlands and Bill Paxton, it won four Emmy Awards and drew a TV audience of more than 34 million viewers.

“An Early Frost” is the story of a young attorney (Quinn) who tells his parents that he is HIV and gay. The topic was so controversial that NBC reportedly lost $500,000 in revenue from advertisers (how times have changed for the good). The film is thought-provoking and thoughtful in a decade not known for either.

“Longtime Companion” (1989)

“Longtime Companion” in 1989 is noted in cinematic history as the first wide-release film to chronicle the AIDS crisis in America. Directed by Norman Rene and with a screenplay by Craig Lucas, the film spans the years 1981 to 1989.

Bruce Davison received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor, and the cast of the film, about the lives of several gay men and the title taken from the New York Times’ description of the partner of someone who has died from AIDS, also included Dermot Mulroney, Mary-Louise Parker, Campbell Scott and Michael Schoeffling (Jake Ryan from “Sixteen Candles”).

“And the Band Played On” (1993)

“And the Band Played On,” based on the bestselling nonfiction book by Randy Shilts, was considered a TV landmark just like “An Early Frost” before it and “Angels in America” on HBO after it and offered a panoramic, almost epic view of the disease.

The film is the story of HIV/AIDS from the discovery of the first cases in Africa in 1976 through the political, social and scientific incidents in the 1980s, and the cast includes Matthew Modine, Alan Alda, Richard Gere, Phil Collins and Angelica Huston.

“Philadelphia” (1993)

One of the best-known films about AIDS, director Jonathan Demme’s “Philadelphia” won Academy Awards for Tom Hanks as best actor and Bruce Springsteen for his great song “Streets of Philadelphia,” although Neil Young’s “Philadelphia” is the more haunting song of the two.

I recently watched the film again, which made more than $200 million at the box office, and it remains a tear-jerker. Denzel Washington’s homophobic lawyer representing Andrew Beckett (Hanks), is jaw-dropping, and Hanks’ performance is affecting and heartbreaking.

“Jeffrey” (1995)

Finally, a film that is mostly uplifting – although there is a death, but that even manages to be OK – Paul Rudnick’s “Jeffrey” directed by Christopher Ashley is a romantic comedy about the search for love and intimacy in the era of AIDS centered on the titular character portrayed by Steven Weber (NBC’s “Wings”).

The star-studded cast is fun and game and includes Patrick Stewart (“Does this scarf make me look like some sort of gay superhero?”), Sigourney Weaver, Kathy Najimy, Robert Klein, Michael T. Weiss and the always great Christine Baranski.

“Angels in America” (2003)

“Angels in America,” HBO’s 11-time Emmy Award-winning miniseries based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tony Kushner, stands out as one of the most poetic and powerful onscreen adaptations of the AIDS pandemic.

Called “a truly monumental piece of filmmaking” incorporating the Bible and historical figures, the storylines are at center stage alongside a stellar cast that includes Emmy winners Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Jeffrey Wright and Mary-Louise Parker. Kushner also received a statuette for his writing, as did director Mike Nichols.

“Rent” (2005)

Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” is one of the most beloved and iconic musicals of its time and a beautiful story of friendship and community in the AIDS-ridden East Village. The memorable score and album include “Seasons of Love” (aka “525,600 minutes”), “Light My Candle,” “One Song Glory,” “Today 4 U,” “La Vie Boheme” and “I’ll Cover You.”

The cast in Chris Columbus’ film includes Adam Pascal from the Broadway cast, Idina Menzel, Taye Diggs, Rosario Dawson and Anthony Rapp. My only inconsequential grip is the film was released a decade after the Broadway musical, but it’s still a joy to see the wonderful songs performed by the talented cast.

“Dallas Buyers Club” (2013)

The Academy Award-winning 2013 film “Dallas Buyers Club” is the story of Ron Woodroof (a hellraising Matthew McConaughey), an HIV-positive heterosexual cowboy who started trading in non-FDA-approved AIDS remedies.

Director Jean-Marc Vallee’s film won Oscars for McConaughey, best achievement in makeup and hairstyling and for Jared Leto, the 30 Seconds to Mars frontman (and forever Jordan Catalano from ABC’s “My So-Called Life”) who portrayed Rayon, a fictional trans woman with HIV.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018)

Say what you will about director Bryan Singer’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” – critics say the movie is hazy in its details surrounding charismatic Queen frontman Freddie Mercury’s HIV diagnosis, and the storytelling shamed his HIV status, his sexuality and him – it nonetheless is one of the few biopics focused on a person of color living with HIV.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” won four Oscars – for best achievement in film editing, sound editing and sound mixing (how could you not with the legendary rockers’ soundtrack?) and best actor for the riveting and captivating Rami Malek as Mercury.

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Philadelphia then

The year was 1993. The Phillies had just won the National League pennant. Ed Rendell was mayor. The Pennsylvania Convention Center had just opened. And, hundreds of thousands of moviegoers were about to meet Andrew Beckett in the movie Philadelphia.

Played by Tom Hanks, Beckett is a bright young lawyer at a high-profile law firm. He’s gay and has HIV. When the firm figures those two facts out, he alleges, it fires him. Beckett wants to sue, but has trouble finding a lawyer to take his case. He ends up with a young attorney, Joe Miller, played by Denzel Washington. What follows is a powerful tale of Beckett’s legal, medical and emotional journey. He wins the case but loses his life.

“I remember there was quite a buzz about it,” recalls Gary Bell, a longtime HIV advocate and director of Bebashi, a health service agency in Philadelphia with a special focus on serving people of color with HIV. “I think the good news was that it got people talking about HIV in a way that they really weren’t, because HIV was always that thing we really didn’t want to talk about.”

Marla Gold, a former assistant city health commissioner, HIV doctor, and public health dean at Drexel University, says Philadelphia managed to do what health leaders had tried and tried to do, yet often fell short: fostering an accurate public awareness about the AIDS epidemic.

“We have a major star, playing a significant role with a visual for HIV, acted out beautifully as a movie that’s award winning,” says Gold. “So this is a lot different than a pamphlet that arrives in the mail and warns you of something. This is real.”

Prominent Figures and the HIV/AIDS Epidemic

Some of the notable artists, singers, athletes, advocates and actors affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic during the 90s.

MOVIE REVIEW : Bittersweet ‘Philadelphia’ : Actors Deliver Strong Performances in Socially Conscious Film

The air of do-goodism hangs like a pall over “Philadelphia,” and nothing is so fatal to effective drama. The first major studio release to deal with AIDS, it is all too conscious of time past and opportunities lost, of being years behind the crisis. But one film cannot make up for an industry-wide history of timidity, and in attempting to this one inevitably hampers its own impact.

Still, “Philadelphia” (selected theaters) is a milestone. Though it is going where books, plays, television movies and independent films have all gone before, having a sympathetic major star like Tom Hanks playing a man dying of AIDS could be as powerful societally as having a star like Rock Hudson announcing the same in real life.

As directed by Jonathan Demme from an original script by Ron Nyswaner, “Philadelphia” fits comfortably into the pattern of mainstream Hollywood socially conscious films, from “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” on racism to “Making Love” on an earlier generation of anti-gay prejudice. Not intended to be subtle, painted in broad, passionate strokes, with the good and bad guys all neatly labeled, it aims to forcefully wring out our emotions like a wet hankie.

Besides being more sophisticated than those predecessors, “Philadelphia” does have a number of points in its favor, especially the affecting performances by Hanks as the AIDS patient and co-star Denzel Washington as the straight lawyer who defends him. But concerned with humanizing the afflicted in terms Middle America can understand, “Philadelphia” is not as worried as it might have been about sacrificing subtlety and nuance to the greater good of a worthwhile cause.

Set with conscious irony in the City of Brotherly Love, where the attorneys have a reputation for legal sharpness (it used to be said that three Philadelphia lawyers were a match for the devil), “Philadelphia” immediately introduces us to two members of that tribe as they meet in a judge’s chambers to argue the opposite sides of a case.

Andrew Beckett (Hanks) is the confident practitioner of corporate law, a promising senior associate for Wyatt, Wheeler, Hellerman, Tetlow and Brown, a firm as old line as it sounds. And except for a legal degree and a liking for handsome clothing, he has nothing in common with the glib Joe Miller (Washington).

A personal injury lawyer working out of a one-man office, Miller’s motto, no doubt heard on his frequent TV commercials, is “we take no cash unless we have cash justice.” Always on the lookout for potential clients, he hands his cards to everyone he meets, from sidewalk Santas to Philadelphia basketball legend Julius Erving. Socially and professionally, he and Beckett couldn’t have less in common.

That, it turns out, goes for their sexual orientation as well. Though no one at his firm knows it, Beckett is gay. He heads for a local clinic to have his blood worked up. For more than simply being gay, Andrew Beckett has AIDS.

Beckett also has the kind of idealized support circle only people in movies seem to manage. His parents (Joanne Woodward and Robert Castle, the subject of Demme’s “My Cousin Bobby” documentary) are totally supportive, as are his siblings and their spouses. And his lover Miguel (Pedro Almodovar stalwart Antonio Banderas) is as gentle, passionate and understanding as he is good-looking, which is plenty.

Beckett will need all their support. On the very night he is given an important case and a promotion by firm head Charles Wheeler (Jason Robards), a senior partner notices a Kaposi’s sarcoma lesion on Beckett’s forehead. Though he tries to pass it off as a racquetball bruise, suspicions are aroused, and after a key file on that big case is mysteriously misplaced, Wheeler claims “something’s come over you” and the firm tells him his services are no longer necessary.

Convinced that he has been fired because of AIDS and not incompetence, Beckett decides to sue. Nine lawyers turn him down, and so does the 10th, Joe Miller. Miller, who moves to the far side of his office when Beckett tells him he has AIDS, turns out to be more than a touch homophobic, telling his wife that he doesn’t want to even think about going to bed with someone who has more hair on his chest than he does.

Played with Washington’s usual assurance, Joe Miller is intended as a kind of mass audience surrogate, someone who shares the fears and prejudices not always admitted in polite society. Having him overcome his homophobia ought to be powerful stuff, but it is typical of “Philadelphia” that it makes this too easy for Miller, providing a convenient and unconvincing scene of anti-gay prejudice as a way for him to understand that all discrimination is equally evil.

With Miller as his attorney, Beckett files against his old firm, and much of “Philadelphia” concerns itself with watching the trial progress as Beckett’s physical condition deteriorates. Hanks, who lost 30 pounds for the role, has not hesitated to look physically debilitated, and his performance, pitched to gain sympathy, manages that but not a great deal more, not even in a bravura emotional breakdown scene set to an aria from “Andrea Chenier.”

If “Philadelphia” has a consistent flaw, it is that it overdoes things, hyping the crises and even amplifying Beckett’s labored breathing as he is cross-examined by opposing attorney Belinda Conine (Mary Steenburgen). Similarly, the film’s nominal plot pivot, the question of whether Beckett was framed or not, gets forgotten as the trial gets turned into a public forum on society’s views of homosexuality.

As proficient a filmmaker as he is, Demme, whose last film was “The Silence of the Lambs,” hasn’t attempted anything that calls for this kind of sensitivity in quite some time, and he ends up being more emphatic than he really needs to be. Genuinely moving at times, “Philadelphia” is trying, perhaps too hard, to break America’s heart. Here’s wishing it luck.

Denzel Washington: Joe Miller

Jason Robards: Charles Wheeler

Mary Steenburgen: Belinda Conine

Antonio Banderas: Miguel Alvarez

A Clinica Estetico production, released by TriStar Pictures. Director Jonathan Demme. Producers Edward Saxon, Jonathan Demme. Executive producers Gary Goetzman, Kenneth Utt, Ron Bozman. Screenplay Ron Nyswaner. Cinematographer Tak Fujimoto. Editor Craig McKay. Costumes Colleen Atwood. Music Howard Shore. Production design Kristi Zea. Art director Tim Galvin. Set decorator Karen O’Hara. Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes.

MPAA rating: PG-13, for “some graphic language and thematic material.” Times guidelines: The ravages of AIDS are clearly depicted.

Review/Film: Philadelphia Tom Hanks as an AIDS Victim Who Fights the Establishment

For a film maker who thrives on taking chances, "Philadelphia" sounds like the biggest gamble of all. As the first high-profile Hollywood film to take the AIDS plague seriously, Jonathan Demme's latest work has stubborn preconceptions to overcome as well as enormous potential to make waves. What it does not have, despite the fine acting and immense decency that give it substance, is much evidence of Mr. Demme's usual daring. Maybe that's not surprising: it isn't easy to leave fingerprints when you're wearing kid gloves.

Hollywood's past reluctance to take on AIDS isn't strictly a matter of cowardice. This subject, with all its anguished inevitability, does not easily lend itself to run-of-the-mill movie methods. If the theater has led the way, with works as different as "Jeffrey" and "Angels in America," it also has more freedom to experiment with format. Conventional wisdom has it that a big-budget film needs reassuring familiarity if it means to play at the multiplex, even if Mr. Demme proved otherwise with his bracingly tough "Silence of the Lambs."

If the dread-disease drama has often been relegated to television, there, too, AIDS has proved daunting: HBO's attention-getting "And the Band Played On" was a much more tepid undertaking than "Philadelphia" turns out to be. Unlike that obviously hamstrung dramatization, "Philadelphia" mostly succeeds in being forceful, impassioned and moving, sometimes even rising to the full range of emotion that its subject warrants. But too often, even at its most assertive, it works in safely predictable ways.

"Philadelphia," which has the year's most elegant and apt movie title, begins with great promise and with a reminder of what the unfettered Mr. Demme can do. A stirring montage of Philadelphia street life, accompanied by a mournfully beautiful new Bruce Springsteen song, offers a resounding sense of vitality and communal obligation. (The film is suffused with haunting music, with operatic arias used much too pointedly in several places and Neil Young's title song floating gently through its final scene.) Mr. Demme knows how to breathe both hope and frustration into the promise of brotherly love.

Soon afterward, Mr. Demme shows an equally impressive tact as he introduces Andrew Beckett, the lawyer played by Tom Hanks. First seen defending a construction company accused of spreading pestilent dust, Andrew is next shown visiting a clinic for AIDS treatment. The film attaches no fanfare to this information, and it spares the audience a melodramatic scene in which Andrew's AIDS is first diagnosed. Likewise, it presents his mother (Joanne Woodward) as determinedly brave and well aware of her son's situation. With these touches, the film promises not to exploit its subject in maudlin ways, and that is a promise it keeps.

Mr. Demme and his screenwriter, Ron Nyswaner, elect to dramatize their material by presenting AIDS as a cause as well as a personal calamity. So "Philadelphia" gives Andrew a tangible grievance. First, he is established as an ambitious, gung-ho young corporate lawyer. "Outstanding!" exclaims Andrew, upon hearing that the firm has landed an important account. Next, he is seen arousing suspicion among the firm's equally hearty senior partners. "What's that on your forehead, pal?" one of them asks, staring at a Kaposi's sarcoma lesion.

"Oh, that!" says Andrew, with the forced heartiness that hides his real nature, and as such is the habit of a lifetime. "I got whacked in the head with a racquetball." Nobody believes him.

When Andrew is summarily fired on a trumped-up charge of incompetence, the film gives him a mission: to sue his former firm for wrongful termination and to fight the bigotry faced by people with AIDS. Admirable as this is in the abstract, it steers the movie in exactly the wrong direction. "Philadelphia" winds up centered on the courtroom, devoting an inordinate amount of time to what should only have been this story's MacGuffin, a minor but galvanizing plot device. The courtroom scenes, which lack suspense and too often have a soapbox tenor, will not tell the audience anything it doesn't already know.

A much more interesting side of "Philadelphia" depicts the relationship between Andrew and Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), his anti-gay, ambulance-chasing lawyer. ("We take no cash unless we get cash justice for you," Joe informs one potential client.) Reluctant to take Andrew's case at first, and flaunting his fears and prejudices with his doctor and his wife, Joe changes gratifyingly during the course of the story. Mr. Hanks gives a brave, stirring, tremendously dignified performance as a man slowly wasting away. But Mr. Washington, who is also very fine as the small-minded shyster who becomes a crusading hero, has the better role.

It shouldn't have been that way. But Mr. Nyswaner's screenplay allows Andrew almost nothing in the way of individual characteristics. It makes him a gay Everyman whose love of opera -- awkwardly underscored in a scene that shows the audience how little it really knows about Andrew -- hardly qualifies as a distinctive trait. Andrew's domestic relationship with Miguel (Antonio Banderas) is presented so sketchily that it barely seems real.

The screenplay's tendency to evade and overgeneralize is not helped by the depiction of gay men as gentle souls, straight men as bigots, and Andrew's large family as a monolithic, enlightened entity. Andrew's father: "We're incredibly proud of you." Andrew's mother: "You get in there and you fight for your rights." Andrew: "Gee, I love you guys."

Most of "Philadelphia" is a lot better than that. Neither Mr. Demme's attention to detail nor his talent for tight, urgent storytelling has let him down. He has assembled a large, expertly cast group of actors to fill out the film's background, among them Ron Vawter as the law firm's one conscience-stricken partner, Jason Robards as its overbearing patriarch, Anna Deavere Smith as an astute paralegal and Robert Castle (the priest who is Mr. Demme's cousin, and the subject of his "Cousin Bobby") as Andrew's father.

Ms. Woodward is especially memorable in a brief but luminous appearance. And Mary Steenburgen has the potentially interesting role of a ruthless, sarcastic defense attorney determined to wear down a now-frail Andrew when he gets to the courtroom. But even here, the film pulls its punches. After conducting a particularly grueling cross-examination, Ms. Steenburgen is allowed to acquit herself by muttering "I hate this case!"

"Philadelphia" may be equivocal in its attitudes, but Mr. Demme will never make a film that lacks visual color. Tak Fujimoto, Craig McKay and Kristi Zea, who have collaborated with the director before as cinematographer, editor and production designer, respectively, give the film a warm, believable look and a vigorous pace. Mention should also be made of Carl Fullerton's makeup, which makes sure that Mr. Hanks's transformation from robust lawyer to visibly suffering AIDS patient will not soon be forgotten.

In the end, thanks to such effects and to the simple grace of Mr. Hanks's performance, this film does accomplish what it means to. "Philadelphia" rises above its flaws to convey the full urgency of its difficult subject, and to bring that subject home.

"Philadelphia" is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned). It includes mild profanity and brief nudity. Philadelphia Directed by Jonathan Demme written by Ron Nyswaner director of photography, Tak Fujimoto edited by Craig McKay music by Howard Shore production designer, Kristi Zea produced by Edward Saxon and Mr. Demme released by Tri-Star Pictures. At the Gemini, Second Avenue and 64th Street, Manhattan. Running time: 119 minutes. This film is rated PG-13. Andrew Beckett . . . Tom Hanks Joe Miller . . . Denzel Washington Sarah Beckett . . . Joanne Woodward Charles Wheeler . . . Jason Robards Belinda Conine . . . Mary Steenburgen Miguel Alvarez . . . Antonio Banderas Bud Beckett . . . Robert Castle Bob Seidman . . . Ron Vawter Anthea Buton . . . Anna Deavere Smith

Andrew Beckett is a senior associate at the largest corporate law firm in Philadelphia, Wyant, Wheeler, Hellerman, Tetlow and Brown. He hides his homosexuality and his status as an AIDS patient from the other members of the firm. A partner in the firm notices a lesion on Beckett's forehead. Although Beckett attributes the lesion to a racquetball injury, it indicates Kaposi's sarcoma, an AIDS-defining condition.

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 paperwork for a case he has been assigned and then brings it to his office, leaving instructions for his assistants to file the paperwork the following day, which marks the end of the statute of limitations for the case. Later that morning, he receives a call asking for the paperwork, as the paper copy cannot be found and there are no copies on the computer's hard drive. The paperwork is finally discovered in an alternate location and is filed with the court at the last possible moment. The following day, Beckett is dismissed by the firm's partners.

Beckett believes that someone deliberately hid his paperwork to give the firm an excuse to fire him, and that the dismissal is actually a result of his diagnosis with AIDS as well as his sexuality. He asks ten attorneys to take his case, including African-American personal injury lawyer Joe Miller. Miller appears to be worried that he could contract Beckett's illness. After declining to take the case, Miller immediately visits his doctor to find out if he could have contracted the disease. The doctor explains that the routes of HIV infection do not include casual contact.

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. A librarian approaches Beckett and announces that he has found a case on AIDS discrimination for him. As others in the library begin to first stare uneasily, the librarian suggests Beckett go to a private room. Feeling discouraged by the other people's behavior and seeing the parallels in how he himself has faced discrimination due to his race, Miller approaches Beckett, reviews the material he has gathered, and takes the case.

As the case goes before the court, the partners of the firm take the stand, each claiming that Beckett was incompetent and that he had deliberately tried to hide his condition. The defense repeatedly suggests that Beckett brought AIDS upon himself by having gay sex, and is therefore not a victim. In the course of testimony, it is revealed that the partner who had noticed Beckett's lesion, Walter Kenton, had previously worked with a woman who had contracted AIDS after a blood transfusion and so should have recognized the lesion as relating to AIDS. According to Kenton, the woman was an innocent victim, unlike Beckett, and further testified that he did not recognize Beckett's lesions. 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 are indeed visible and recognizable as such. Over the course of the trial, Miller's homophobia slowly disappears as he and Beckett bond from working together.

Beckett eventually collapses during the trial and is hospitalized. After this, another partner, Bob Seidman, who had also noticed Beckett's lesions, confesses that he suspected Beckett had AIDS but never told anyone and never gave him the opportunity to explain himself, which he regrets very much. During his hospitalization, the jury votes in Beckett's favor, awarding him back pay, damages for pain and suffering and punitive damages, totaling over $5 million. Miller visits the visibly failing Beckett in the hospital after the verdict and overcomes his fear enough to touch Beckett's face. After the family leaves the room, Beckett tells his partner Miguel Alvarez that he is "ready". At the Miller home later that night, Miller and his wife are awakened by a phone call from Alvarez, who tells them that Beckett has died peacefully. A memorial is held at Beckett's family home following the funeral, where many mourners, including Miller and his family, view home movies of Beckett as a happy child.

    as Andrew ("Andy") Beckett as Joe Miller as Charles Wheeler as Belinda Conine as Miguel Álvarez as Sarah Beckett as Bud Beckett as Jill Beckett as Jill's husband as Matt Beckett
  • Dan Olmstead as Randy Beckett
  • Lisa Summerour as Lisa Miller as Judge Lucas Garnett as Judge Tate as Mr. Roger Laird as Bruno as The Jury as Dr. Armbruster as Chandra as Jury Foreman as Dr. Gillman as Walter Kenton as Jamey Collins as Bob Seidman as Anthea Burton as Jerome Green
  • Charles Glenn as Kenneth Killcoyne as the Librarian
  • Andre B. Blake as Young Man in Pharmacy (as André B. Blake)
  • Daniel Chapman as Clinic Storyteller
  • Peter Jacobs as Peter / Mona Lisa
  • Paul Lazar as Dr. Klenstein
  • Warren Miller as Mr. Finley
  • Joey Perillo as Filko
  • Lauren Roselli as Iris
  • Lisa Talerico as Shelby
  • Kathryn Witt as Melissa Benedict as Julius Erving
  • Mayor of Philadelphia Ed Rendell as himself

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. [3]

Controversies Edit

Bowers' family sued the writers and producers of the film. A year after Bowers' death in 1987, a producer, Scott Rudin had interviewed the Bowers family and their lawyers and, according to the family, promised compensation for the use of Bowers' story as a basis for a film. Family members asserted that 54 scenes in the movie were 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 had abandoned the project after hiring a writer and did not share any information the family had provided. [4] 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' story. [5]

Theatrical release Edit

Philadelphia premiered in Los Angeles on December 14, 1993 and opened in limited release in four theaters on December 22, before expanding into wide release on January 14, 1994. [6] [7] The LA premiere was a benefit for AIDS Project Los Angeles, which netted $250,000 APLA Chair Steve Tisch told the LA Times. [8]

The film was the first 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 people in the LGBT community. Extras cast in this film included 53 people who were AIDS-infected as of the time of shooting the film. By the end of 1994, 43 out of those 53 people had died - demonstrating the close linkage between fiction and fact. [9] [10] According to a Tom Hanks interview for the 1995 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. [11]

Home media Edit

Philadelphia was released on VHS on June 29, 1994 [12] and on DVD on September 10, 1997. [13] Philadelphia was later released on Blu-Ray on May 14, 2013. [13] To celebrate Philadelphia's 25th anniversary, the film was released on 4K UHD Blu-Ray on November 27, 2018. [14]

The screenplay was also republished in a novelization by writer Christopher Davis in 1994. [15]

Box office Edit

Philadelphia was originally released on December 22, 1993, in a limited opening of only four theaters, and had a weekend gross of $143,433 with an average of $35,858 per theater. The film expanded its release on January 14, 1994, to 1,245 theaters and went to number one at the US box office, grossing $13.8 million over the 4-day Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, averaging $11,098 per theater. The film stayed at number 1 the following weekend, earning another $8.8 million.

In its 14th weekend, the weekend after the Oscars, the film expanded to 888 theaters, and saw its gross increase by 70 percent, making $1.9 million and jumping from number 15 the previous weekend (when it made $1.1 million from 673 theaters), to returning to the top ten ranking at number 8 that weekend.

Philadelphia eventually grossed $77.4 million in North America and $129.2 million overseas for a total of $206.7 million worldwide against a budget of $26 million, making it a significant box office success, and becoming the 12th highest-grossing film in the U.S. of 1993. [1]

Critical response Edit

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 80% based on 55 reviews, with an average rating of 6.75/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Philadelphia indulges in some unfortunate clichés in its quest to impart a meaningful message, but its stellar cast and sensitive direction are more than enough to compensate." [16] Metacritic gave the film a weighted average score of 66 out of 100, based on 21 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews." [17] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale. [18]

In a contemporary review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert gave the film three and a half out of four stars and said that it is "quite a good film, on its own terms. And for moviegoers with an antipathy to AIDS but an enthusiasm for stars like Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, it may help to broaden understanding of the disease. It's a ground-breaker like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), the first major film about an interracial romance it uses the chemistry of popular stars in a reliable genre to sidestep what looks like controversy." [19]

Christopher Matthews from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote "Jonathan Demme's long-awaited Philadelphia is so expertly acted, well-meaning and gutsy that you find yourself constantly pulling for it to be the definitive AIDS movie." [20] James Berardinelli from ReelViews wrote "The story is timely and powerful, and the performances of Hanks and Washington assure that the characters will not immediately vanish into obscurity." [20] Rita Kempley from The Washington Post wrote "It's less like a film by Demme than the best of Frank Capra. It is not just canny, corny and blatantly patriotic, but compassionate, compelling and emotionally devastating." [20]

  • 8th – Dan Craft, The Pantagraph[21]
  • 8th – Joan Vadeboncoeur, Syracuse Herald American[22]
  • Honorable mention – Dennis King, Tulsa World[23]
  • Honorable mention – Bob Carlton, The Birmingham News[24]

A soundtrack album was released in January 1994, by TriStar Music containing the main music featured in the film. [27]

Track listing Edit

No. TitleArtist(s)Length
1."Streets of Philadelphia"Bruce Springsteen3:56
2."Lovetown"Peter Gabriel5:29
3."It's in Your Eyes"Pauletta Washington3:46
4."Ibo Lele (Dreams Come True)"RAM4:15
5."Please Send Me Someone to Love"Sade3:44
6."Have You Ever Seen the Rain?"Spin Doctors2:41
7."I Don't Wanna Talk About It"Indigo Girls3:41
8."La mamma morta" (From the Opera Andrea Chénier) Maria Callas4:53
9."Philadelphia"Neil Young4:06
10."Precedent"Howard Shore4:03

The album was re-released in 2008 in France only as a CD/DVD combo pack with the film itself, containing the same track listing (catalogue number 88697 322052 under both Sony BMG Music Entertainment and Sony Classical labels). [ citation needed ] The director deliberately asked Bruce Springsteen to make the feature song for this film in an effort to draw in those who may not know much about AIDS, so as to make their viewing of the film more comfortable, and to raise awareness overall. [20] However, Springsteen's first contribution, "Tunnel of Love," was rejected by Demme.

Certifications and sales Edit

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.


  • Adult Fear: Part of the reason Charles Wheeler and the others were so upset about Andy having AIDS (and hiding it) was because he went to their company picnics and they feel paranoid he could have gotten blood on their kids or something.
  • Ambulance Chaser: Joe, as we see in his first courtroom encounter with Andrew.
  • Amoral Attorney: Andrew's former employers.
  • Bald of Awesome: The Jury foreman, once he turns out to be Good All Along.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Andy is worried that the ensuring spotlight from the trial will hurt the lives of his siblings and their families, and asks them (along with their parents) for input before going ahead with the trial. They all tell him not to worry about it, and that they're proud of him.
  • Birth/Death Juxtaposition: Just count the babies at that funeral…
  • Bittersweet Ending: Andrew wins his case, but is unable to be present when it happens and dies soon after.

7. The sailor uniforms became a political statement.

Columbia TriStar Home Video

In one scene, Banderas and Hanks host a party, wear sailor uniforms, and slow-dance together. “They’re an elegant couple, they would throw a swellegant, Cole Porter-type party,” Demme told Rolling Stone. “So the idea of the guys in dress naval—they’ll look so handsome, they’ll look so elegant.”

In February 1994, not long after the film was released, President Bill Clinton ushered in "Don’t ask, don’t tell" (DADT), a policy that prohibited gay military members from disclosing their sexuality. “When we showed the [movie] at the White House, shortly after the shot of the guys dancing in uniform, President Clinton left the room—he had to relieve himself,” Demme said. “But I thought that was kind of … interesting timing. It wasn’t enough that the movie was seen at the White House—I hoped that with the 50 or so guests, there would have been 10 minutes devoted to a discussion about AIDS in our country. But instead. President Clinton took the guests on a guided tour of the White House. I was disappointed by that.”

From the Archives: Playwright and gay activist Larry Kramer explains why he hated Jonathan Demme’s ‘Philadelphia’

“Philadelphia,” directed by Jonathan Demme, who died Wednesday, was the first major studio release to address the AIDS crisis and won Oscars for Tom Hanks and Bruce Springsteen in 1994. “Though it is going where books, plays, television movies and independent films have all gone before, having a sympathetic major star like Tom Hanks playing a man dying of AIDS could be as powerful societally as having a star like Rock Hudson announcing the same in real life,” The Times’ film critic Kenneth Turan said in his review. But playwright and activist Larry Kramer, author of “The Normal Heart,” was more scathing in his criticism. Here’s what he wrote for The Times in January 1994.

“Philadelphia” is a heartbreakingly mediocre film. It’s dishonest, it’s often legally, medically and politically inaccurate, and it breaks my heart that I must say it’s simply not good enough and I’d rather people not see it at all.

For 12 years, millions of people — gays, people with AIDS, people infected with HIV, their families and friends — have been waiting desperately for a “major” movie to deal with this plague in a mature fashion. Other tragedies, from the Holocaust to Vietnam to Watergate, have had their films. Why not AIDS? Oh, we knew why not: Because AIDS is happening to certain communities others would just as soon see dead. There’s no audience, we’ve been told, for this kind of subject so for the 12 years of this plague, Hollywood has turned its back on it.

Finally a company called TriStar, which is a division of Columbia Pictures, which is a division of Sony Entertainment, which is a division of Japan, where there are very few AIDS cases, has given us “Philadelphia.” Not only has it given us “Philadelphia,” but it, and everyone else in Hollywood, has let us all know that if “Philadelphia” isn’t a success, there just might not be any other films about AIDS. In other words, like Clinton’s new gays-in-the-military policy, to fight for our welfare we go to this movie but we’re not supposed to tell anyone how awful it is. We’re supposed to be grateful it’s been made.

Director Jonathan Demme at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006 for the premiere of his film “Neil Young: Heart of Gold.”

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Jonathan Demme photographed at his office in 1984.

(Larry Davis / Los Angeles Times)

Jonathan Demme with his then-7-month-old-daughter, Ramona, at the Chateau Marmot in 1988. He released the film “Married to the Mob” that year.

(Scott Robinson / Los Angeles Times)

Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins starred in Jonathan Demme’s “Silence of the Lambs” (1991).

Demme, right, directs Anthony Hopkins on the set of “Silence of the Lambs” in 1990. Demme, Hopkins and his co-star Jodie Foster all won Oscars for their work and the film won best picture and best adapted screenplay.

(Ken Regan / Orion Pictures)

Jonathan Demme accepts the Oscar for director for “Silence of the Lambs” in 1992.

(Joe Kennedy / Los Angeles Times)

Tom Hanks, right, and Antonio Banderas in 1994’s “Philadelphia,” directed by Jonathan Demme.

(Ken Regan / TriStar Pictures)

Jonathan Demme and Oprah Winfrey on the set of “Beloved” (1998).

(Ken Regan / Camera5/Touchstone Pictures)

Director Jonathan Demme, center, frames a shot of Denzel Washington on the set of “The Manchurian Candidate” (2004).

(Ken Regan / Paramount Pictures)

Meryl Streep, Rick Springfield and Jonathan Demme on the set of 2015’s “Ricki and the Flash.”

(Bob Vergara / Sony Pictures)

Actress Thandie Newton and director Jonathan Demme photographed by The Times in Beverly Hills in 2002 while discussing their collaboration on “The Truth About Charlie.”

(Richard Hartog / Los Angeles Times)

Jonathan Demme on the set of “Rachel Getting Married” (2008).

(Bob Vergara / Sony Pictures Classics)

Director Jonathan Demme, left, was interviewed by Los Angeles Film Festival curator Elvis Mitchell in a highlight of the 2015 event.

Jonathan Demme in 2011’s “Neil Young Journeys,” his second film about the performer.

(Declan Quinn / Sony Pictures Classics)

Jodie Foster and Jonathan Demme at a 25th anniversary celebration of “Silence of the Lambs” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City on April 20, 2016.

Director Jonathan Demme photographed by The Times in 2004 in Malibu.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

‘Philadelphia’ doesn’t have anything to do with the AIDS I know, or with the gay world I know.

But “Philadelphia” doesn’t have anything to do with the AIDS I know, or with the gay world I know. It doesn’t bear any truthful resemblance to the life, world and universe I live in. To believe any viewer — particularly those I would like to have experience something meaningful watching this movie — would change his or her point of view after seeing it is like thinking Jesse Helms or George Bush would change after watching an episode of “Another World.”

“Philadelphia” is put together like a by-the-numbers painting:

Take one noble gay white male hero (Tom Hanks). Put him together with one black ambulance-chasing lawyer who hates gays (Denzel Washington). Pepper their conflict with the (most improbable) notion that the shyster is the only lawyer in the entire city of Philadelphia who will defend the white man, who’s been fired from his law firm on obviously trumped-up grounds of poor work performance. (The audience knows it’s really because he has AIDS.) Make the head honchos in the white law firm (senior partner: Jason Robards) so monstrous and homophobic you wonder how they’ve stayed in business so long. Have a despicable white woman (Mary Steenburgen) and another black lawyer defend the law firm. By trial’s end, make certain the black shyster has experienced a change of heart so he can deliver a rending closing speech on discrimination and the white woman can mutter, “I hate this case.” And our hero, who’s just collapsed on the floor, can win some $30 million on his deathbed.

It’s so patently illegal to fire a person with AIDS that the very notion that a Main Line law firm would fire this guy is ludicrously unbelievable. Who was the legal adviser on this movie? Did no one know of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which categorically prohibits such a dismissal?

There’s another credibility problem: Washington never really makes us believe he’s as slimy as the script is telling us he is. His character does so many flip-flops I wondered whether they’d shot two versions and intercut them. One scene he’s railing against gays the next scene, he’s defending them then he’s slugging a gay athlete who tries to pick him up then he’s waffling with his wife about the case.

The screenwriter may have meant Robards, Steenburgen and Washington all to be scumbags, but at least their parts are written. They’re more animated than anybody gay in the movie. Hanks, his lover and his mother are in a silent film. All their dialogue put together couldn’t cover 10 pages.

Hanks’ character is an utter cipher. I couldn’t tell you anything about him — opinions, beliefs or even whether he’s gay. Tom Hanks does not act in this movie. His makeup does his acting. I haven’t seen so many changes hinged on shades of Max Factor since James Cagney in “Man of a Thousand Faces.”

We see that Hanks wears a wedding ring, but who is his mate? He might as well be married to a woman. Some actor I couldn’t recognize from one scene to the next but who had dark hair and spoke with a Spanish accent hovers around Tom now and then, and Tom winks at him in the courtroom, but for all the script tells you, they could be trying to pick each other up or the guy could be a volunteer from an AIDS organization. No — I take that back. The dark-haired guy couldn’t work for an AIDS organization: He doesn’t know anything about AIDS. He talks about a colonoscopy as if it were brain surgery. Who was the medical adviser on this movie?

Two “big” scenes are meant to convey we’re in the company of “different” people. The first involves Tom listening to Maria Callas sing an obscure aria about the French Revolution from “Andrea Chenier.” To see this character, who’s been totally undeveloped by the screenwriter, suddenly — in front of Denzel — put on Maria and, in swooping close-ups a la Fellini, swirl and swoon around a dim room (his apartment? loft? house? as I say, it’s dim), his eyes rolling in ecstasy — this is not acting, it’s embarrassing. I’d be afraid of someone too if--out of the blue--he behaved like this.

The other scene is a gay party, which I guess is an obligatory scene in a movie about gay people. Quentin Crisp can be briefly glimpsed what Quentin Crisp, perhaps one of the most outrageous homosexuals in the world, is doing at this party and with these people is a question I’ll bet even he can’t answer. There is a shot of one of our greatest AIDS activist heroes, Michael Callen (who died the day I saw this movie), performing, with the Flirtations, “Mr. Sandman” (they must have known that boring trial scene lay just ahead). Tom and his companion are dressed like naval officers. Tom dances with his lover as if he were his mother.

Which brings me to his mother, and the rest of his family. Every single one of them is supportive, thrilled he’s gay, and rooting for Tom at the trial. The movie’s single most awful moment comes when Tom gushes to these assembled relations — after warning them that bad things might come out about his private life (he once went, horror of horrors, to the baths and a gay porno theater) and learning that, surprise, they are with him 100% — “Gosh, I love you guys.” As Dorothy Parker once wrote, “Tontstant Weader fwowed up.”

Who’s going to see a movie like this? Why don’t the filmmakers understand that it’s lies and distortions that make the “Middle America” they pander to and are so terrified of offending stay away in droves? A 6-year-old — after five years of going to the mall and watching countless TV shows that handle this subject better — knows gay people don’t live and look and act like this.

I’m tired of hearing the old chestnut that the reason Hollywood doesn’t finance movies about gays and AIDS is that they won’t make money. (“Philadelphia” will not make money.) I scream back: If you make an honest movie, people will come to it, and there’s never been an honest movie financed by a major studio with gay or lesbian leading characters in which we’re dealt with dramatically just as heterosexuals are!

I fervently believe that the first decent movie in which a male star like Tom Hanks makes love, in a bed, naked, with another male star, like Tom Cruise, in the same bed, also naked, and they embrace and they talk to each other in an adult fashion, doing the same things straight lovers do in every single movie, TV show and commercial, it will make a fortune.

Which brings me to this movie’s biggest lie. There is not one person in the entire world with AIDS or who is HIV-positive who does not believe he or she is the victim of governmental inaction and oversight of huge proportions. There is not one of us not forced to face the fact that Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Bill Clinton have done little to save our lives. For there not to be one reference in this entire movie to this is criminal.

What unreal world do the manufacturers of this movie live in? How can it be possible that a gay screenwriter wrote this cornucopia of lies? Yes, I’m angry. I waited 12 years for this? Anyone who wants to see what gay life is really like and how audiences are reacting to it should go and see the seven hours of theater known as “Angels in America,” which is selling out every performance on Broadway.

To watch director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner on a recent “Nightline” — trying to maintain that, well, gee, it’s not really a movie about AIDS, and well, we wanted to make a movie Middle America would go and see — is enough to make anyone lose faith in the artist as the teller of truth. Why did they make it, then? I bring up the painful reminder that Demme also directed “The Silence of the Lambs,” which many gays consider one of the most virulently and insidiously homophobic films ever made. Is “Philadelphia” some sort of attempt on his part to offer an apology? After these two films, I wish he’d just go away and leave us alone. He’s about as good for our cause as Reagan, Bush or Clinton.

In the end, though, my rage isn’t against Demme and Nyswaner. They’re only small potatoes who’ve missed a boat that could have carried some valuable cargo. My fury is against the third silent President in a row who refuses to take a leadership position in ending this plague, thus allowing everyone else’s complicities in a monstrous cover-up that not only allows one lousy AIDS movie to be made in 12 years, but by the same token allows an entire world to look the other way.

The first notable suggestion of homosexuality on film was in 1895, when two men were shown dancing together in the William Kennedy Dickson motion picture The Dickson Experimental Sound Film, commonly labeled online and in three published books as The Gay Brothers. At the time, the men were not seen as “queer“ or even flamboyant, but merely as acting fancifully. [1] However, film critic Parker Tyler stated that the scene "shocked audiences with its subversion of conventional male behavior". [2] During the late nineteenth century and into the 1920s and 30s, homosexuality was largely depicted through gender-based conventions and stereotypes. Oftentimes male characters intended to be identified as gay were flamboyant, effeminate, humorous characters on film. [3] The terms "pansy" and "sissy" became tagged to homosexuality and described "a flowery, fussy, effeminate soul given to limp wrists and mincing steps". [3] Because of his high-pitched voice and attitude, the pansy easily transitioned from the silent film era to the talking pictures where those characteristics could be taken advantage of. [3] Gay male characters were depicted as having stereotypically feminine jobs, such as a tailor, hairdresser, or choreographer reinforcing the stereotype that gay men were limited to certain careers. Lesbian characters did not have a title like gay men, but were still associated with crossdressing, a deep voice, and having a stereotypically masculine job. [4]

The first erotic kiss between two members of the same sex in a film was in Cecil B. DeMille's Manslaughter (1922). [5] Marlene Dietrich was the first leading lady to kiss another female on screen in 1930's Morocco. [5] During the period of the Great Depression in the 1930s, the cinema audience had significantly waned. Filmmakers produced movies with themes and images that had high shock value to prompt people to return to the theaters. This called for the inclusion of more controversial topics such as prostitution and violence, creating a demand for pansies and their lesbian counterparts to stimulate or shock audiences. [3] With the new influx of these provocative subjects, debates arose regarding the negative effects these films could have on American society. [ citation needed ]

In the 1931 film City Lights, written and directed by Charlie Chaplin, there are several scenes approaching questions in regards to what exactly is going on between Charlie's character and a rich drunken man (Harry Myers) he meets at a party. He goes home with the drunken rich man and the following morning, he has slept in the same bed as his rich drunk friend. Later in the movie, when the same drunk man meets and recognizes Chaplin on the street, he embraces him and kisses him on the mouth (or close to it). In the boxing scene, Chaplin is between bouts and sitting in the corner of the ring and the ring men are rubbing him on his arms and legs and one of them slips his hand down inside Chaplin's trunks where it is promptly removed by Charlie. Also, in a scene previous to the one just mentioned, he flirts (over the top) with another boxer in the dressing room to the extent that the boxer steps behind a curtain to pull off his pants and put on his trunks.

It was during this same time that the United States Supreme Court ruled that films did not have First Amendment protection, due to the film industry being a business that could be easily used for "evil", and several local governments passed laws restricting the public exhibition of "indecent" or "immoral" films. The media publicity surrounding several high-profile celebrity scandals and the danger of church-led boycotts also pressured the leadership within the film industry to establish a national censorship board, which became the Motion Picture Production Code.

The Motion Picture Production Code, also simply known as the Production Code or as the "Hays Code", was established both to curtail additional government censorship and to prevent the loss of revenue from boycotts led by the Catholic Church and fundamentalist Protestant groups, who had wanted to judge the moral impact of Hollywood cinema on the general public. [6] In terms of homosexuality, the code marked the end of the "pansy" characters and the beginning of depictions that were more reserved and buried within subtext. [3] While the code did not explicitly state that depictions of homosexuality were against the code, the code barred the depiction of any kind of sexual perversion or deviance, which homosexuality fell under at the time. [7] Gay characters on screen also came to be represented as villains or victims who commit crimes due to their homosexuality. [8] Per the production code these homosexual villains would have to be punished by the law in order to coincide with the code's rule stating that films could not place crime above law. [9] An example of the enforcement of the production code is the character Joel Cairo in the 1941 film The Maltese Falcon. In the original novel the character is clearly homosexual, though in the movie his homosexuality is made vague. [10] The production code not only affected what was cut from movies containing homosexual characters, but also often removed them completely. The stage play The Children's Hour by Lillian Hellman was released as a film in 1936 titled These Three directed by William Wyler. The stage play contained a storyline of two teachers being accused of having a lesbian affair, yet the film version created a heterosexual love triangle between two women and one man. [8] Critics came to favor the production code as it allowed for unsavory behaviors to be eliminated from the public eye. Many critics stated that the film version of The Children's Hour was more enjoyable with the absence of the lesbian characters when compared to the original stage play. [8]

Early gender-role reversals Edit

The time period prior to the Hays code included gender role-reversal productions, most notably Charlie Chaplin's A Woman (1915), in which Chaplin dresses as a woman and plays with the affections of men. [2] Films such as Miss Fatty (1915), featuring Fatty Arbuckle, and Sweedie (1914–16), starring Academy Award-winning actor Wallace Beery, created a comedic view of drag that audiences found entertaining. However, with the establishment of the Hollywood Production Code, drag depictions almost disappeared from mainstream commercial films. [2] Various other notable drag films of the early to mid-1900s include:

  • A Florida Enchantment (1914), directed by and starring Sidney Drew
  • Mabel's Blunder (1914), directed by and starring Mabel Normand
  • Charley's Aunt (1915), based on the stage play and starring Oliver Hardy
  • Morocco (1930), starring Marlene Dietrich, in which she performs a song in tuxedo and kisses another woman
  • Queen Christina (1933), directed by Rouben Mamoulian and starring Greta Garbo
  • Wonder Bar (1934), starring Al Jolson, features a brief, but explicit homosexual reference
  • Sylvia Scarlett (1936), starring Katharine Hepburn, a widely unsuccessful film, but significant due to the female-to-male transformation [11]
  • I Was a Male War Bride (1949), directed by Howard Hawks and starring Cary Grant as a French officer who must impersonate a female war bride
  • Glen or Glenda (1953), a film by Ed Wood starring himself
  • Some Like It Hot (1959), featuring Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe, and Jack Lemmon

From 1950 to 1956 Jerry Lewis appeared in several film remakes in roles originally written for women. He appeared in drag in the films At War with the Army, Scared Stiff, and Money From Home and routinely adopted effeminate mannerisms and gender ambiguous role-playing with his partner Dean Martin. He was criticized by the press for his ‘prancing and mincing’ homosexual references.

World War II era to 1960s Edit

During the Second World War and the subsequent Cold War, Hollywood increasingly depicted gay men and women as sadists, psychopaths, and nefarious, anti-social villains. These depictions were driven by the censorship of the code, which was willing to allow "sexual perversion" if it was depicted in a negative manner, as well as the fact that homosexuality was classified as a mental illness and gay men and women were often harassed by the police. This can be examined in Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 film Rope. [1] [2] In his article "The History of Gays and Lesbians on Film", author Daniel Mangin explains:

In the film, Jimmy Stewart plays a dabbler in philosophy who introduces the two boys to the "Superman" theory of the superiority of some humans over others. He becomes horrified when he realizes that the theories he espoused have led to murder. His character's somewhat hysterical repudiation of his formerly held beliefs mirrored the fears of some Americans about the infiltration of alien ideas. That the homosexuals in Rope were connected to the arts, as were many of those investigated, seems apt in view of longstanding suspicions about the politics and sexual practices of people so engaged. [2]

The censorship code gradually became liberalized during the 1950s and 1960s, until it was replaced by the current classification system established by the Motion Picture Association of America in 1968. Legally, it was the 1952 case Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson that extended First Amendment legal protection to films, reversing its original verdict, [12] and, in a second case, ended once common practice of film studios owning the theaters. [ citation needed ] That practice had made it difficult for films produced outside of these studios, such as independent or international films, to be screened widely, let alone to be commercially successful.

Culturally, American consumers were increasingly less likely to boycott a film at the request of the Catholic Church or fundamentalist Protestant groups. This meant that films with objectionable content did not necessarily need the approval of the Hollywood Production Code or religious groups in order to be successful. As a result, Hollywood gradually became more willing to ignore the code in order to compete with television and the growing access to independent and international cinema.

During the 1950s–60s, gay characters in American films were identified with more overtly sexual innuendos and methods (e.g., reference in The Seven Year Itch (1952) to three male tenants who are "interior decorators or something"), but having a gay or bisexual sexual orientation was largely treated as a trait of miserable and suicidal misfits who frequently killed themselves or other people. [13]

During this post-war era, mainstream American cinema might advocate tolerance for eccentric, sensitive young men, wrongly, accused of homosexuality, such as in the film adaptation of Tea and Sympathy (1956), but gay characters were frequently eliminated from the final cut of the film or depicted as dangerous misfits who would fall prey to a well-deserved violent end. Others had homosexual themes almost completely removed such as in the 1958 film adaptation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. [14] An early example of homoeroticism in American film was 1954's The Strange One. [14]

The code was relaxed somewhat after 1961, and the next year William Wyler remade a more faithful adaptation of The Children's Hour with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine. [14] After MacLaine's character admits her love for Hepburn's, she hangs herself this set a precedent for miserable endings in films addressing homosexuality. Advise & Consent (1962) depicted a married senator who is being blackmailed over a wartime homosexual affair, and was the first mainstream American movie to show a gay bar. [15]

The film Lawrence of Arabia in 1962, widely seen as one of the best films ever created, was revolutionary for several reasons including depicting not only a character who is heavily implied to be gay, but also implying a relationship between two men. Though T.E. Lawrence's sexuality remains ambiguous, director David Lean had Peter O'Toole play his version of the desert hero as a gay man. Beyond this, Lean also implied a relationship between Lawrence and his companion Sherif Ali, played by Omar Sharif. Years later, when asked about the homosexuality in his hit film, Lean commented, "Throughout, Lawrence was very, if not entirely, homosexual. We thought we were being very daring at the time: Lawrence and Omar. " This is one of the first examples of an LGBT+ film being a box office success without an incredible amount of innuendo to disguise the homosexual nature of the film. The Best Man (1964), where a character, played by Shelley Berman, is accused of being homosexual, was the first American film to use the word "homosexual". [14]

Brock Peters played one of the first expressly homosexual characters in an American film in The Pawnbroker in 1964. [14] Inside Daisy Clover in 1965, based on the novel of the same name, was another early example to depict an expressly gay or bisexual character who, while forced to marry a woman for his career, is not uncomfortable with his sexual orientation and does not commit suicide or fall victim to murder. Yet, beyond a few lines of dialogue, the character's bisexuality was largely restricted to bits of subtext and innuendo.

Homosexuality began to become more prominent in film including in films such as Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), The Detective, The Legend of Lylah Clare, P.J., and The Sergeant (all 1968) [16] and The Killing of Sister George (also 1968) became the first English-language film to have consenting adult homosexuals as the focus of the film. [14]

In America, efforts at creating complex gay or bisexual film characters were largely restricted to people such as Andy Warhol and Kenneth Anger. Beyond their underground, independent films, a handful of foreign films were depicting gay characters as complex human beings entitled to tolerance, if not equality. However, mainstream American cinema efforts at marketing films for a LGBT audience did not begin until the 1970s.

Following the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City and its catapulting of the gay liberation movement, Hollywood began to look at gay people as a possible consumer demographic. It was also in the 1970s, that some anti-gay laws and prejudicial attitudes changed through the work of an increasingly visible LGBT-rights movement and overall attitudes in America about human sexuality, sex and gender roles changed as a result of LGBT-rights, women's liberation and the sexual revolution.

The Boys in the Band (1970) was the first attempt of Hollywood to market a film to gay consumers and present an honest look at what it meant to be a gay or bisexual man in America. The film based on a play of the same name, was often hailed in the mainstream press as a presenting a "landmark of truths", but was often criticized for reinforcing certain anti-gay stereotypes and for failing to deal with LGBT-rights and showing a group of gay and bisexual men who are all unhappy, miserable and bitchy.

In contrast, Fortune and Men's Eyes (1971), was co-produced by MGM, dealt with the issue of homosexuality in prison, and depicted gays in a relatively "open and realistic, non-stereotypical and non-caricatured manner". [17]

Despite the criticism and setbacks with The Boys in the Band film, the treatment of homosexuality in mainstream American film did, gradually, improve during the 1970s, especially if the film was directed at a gay audience (i.e. A Very Natural Thing (1973)), or a more cosmopolitan-liberal audience (i.e. Something for Everyone (1970), Cabaret (1972) and Ode to Billy Joe (1976)). [1]

Despite the growing tolerance of homosexuality during the 1970s, some Hollywood films throughout the decade still depicted homosexuality as an insult or a joke. Gay characters were sometimes depicted in mainstream films as dangerous misfits who needed to be cured or killed. Some films would even use anti-gay derogatory comments, often made by the protagonist, in a manner that was not done in Hollywood films with regards to other minority groups. Films like Cruising (1980) and Windows (1980), for example, portrayed gays in an unrelentingly negative light.

The slowly growing acceptance of homosexuality in film continued into the early 1980s, with the addition of two new factors the rising political clout of Christian fundamentalist groups, committed to a conservative, traditionalist social and economic agenda, and the emergence of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Following decades Edit

In the mid-1980s, an organized religious-political movement arose in America to oppose LGBT rights. The political clout of the "religious right", as it became known, grew as its role in helping to elect, mostly, Republican Party candidates and move the party further to the political right.

As a result, a Hollywood film in the mid-1980s that depicted gay people as being complex human beings entitled to their rights and dignity was a potential commercial liability and was at risk of a boycott from the stronghold conservative, right wing movement. Throughout the 1980s, if a Hollywood film was not made, primarily, for a gay audience or a cosmopolitan–liberal audience, homosexuality was often depicted as something to laugh at, pity or fear.

Along with clout of fundamentalist Christian groups, the Hollywood's treatment of homosexuality and gay characters was also shaped by the emergence of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Ignorance about the disease, and how it was spread, was commonplace and the fact that many of the early American victims were gay or bisexual men helped to fuel the myth that gave the disease its first name GRID (Gay Related Immune Disorder).

As mainstream American films began to depict or make reference to the pandemic, the ignorance about the disease, including the idea that if one is gay, then they must have AIDS, spread. [1] [3] The first American film about the pandemic, and the ignorance and homophobia that it promoted, was an independent film, Parting Glances (1986). It was followed by a mainstream television movie, An Early Frost (1985), but the first mainstream Hollywood film about the pandemic, and its impact on the gay community, would be released at the end of the decade Longtime Companion (1989), followed up by Philadelphia (1993) a few years later.

All of these initial films and television movies about the pandemic followed a similar demographic pattern in that person living with AIDS was a white man from a middle-class or upper-class family, who was usually somber and emotional. [1] Though homosexual characters and the disease were often shown in a negative light, they were also shown together as something manageable and "okay". [1]

In the late 1980s and into the 1990s, the cultural and political backlash that had occurred against gay people and gay rights issues began to decline, impacting how Hollywood treated LGBT-issues. The clout of Christian fundamentalist had its limits in 1988, Pat Robertson, a prominent Christian fundamentalist, ran for president in the Republican Party primary and was soundly defeated. During the decade, more LGBT people had come out, including celebrities and politicians and the AIDS-HIV pandemic had forced the broader society to more openly talk about human sexuality, including homosexuality.

A younger, "gayer" generation of gay people were not only coming out at younger ages, but becoming involved in helping to build what became known, in the early – mid-1990s, as "LGBT Cinema". [18]

New Queer Cinema of the 1990s represented a new era of independent films. Often directed and or written by openly gay people they featured mostly LGBT characters who were open about their sexual orientation or gender identity and oftentimes openly rejected both homophobia (and transphobia) as well as the idea that all LGBT characters in film needed to be "positive" or politically correct role models.

Alongside these independent films, mainstream Hollywood increasingly began to treat homosexuality as a normal part of human sexuality and gay people as a minority group, entitled to dignity and respect. Overt homophobia on screen became akin to overt racism, sexism or anti-Semitism. A-list Hollywood stars were more eager to play a gay character in a film.

Initially, most of these Hollywood depictions were in the context of campy, funny characters, often in drag on some sort of adventure or farce, while teaching a lesson in tolerance, if not equality. [3] Drag portrayals also made a comeback in many films of the 1990s, notably The Birdcage (1996), starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane, Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), also starring Robin Williams, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), starring Guy Pearce, and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995), starring Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, and John Leguizamo.

While likable, decent gay characters were more common in mainstream Hollywood films, same-sex relationships, public displays of affection and intimacy were still generally taboo in mainstream Hollywood films. In the 1990s, the protagonist, or his best friend, in a Hollywood film could be LGBT, and a decent person, but, compared to heterosexual characters in films, the price of this progress was little to no on-screen same-sex intimacy or sexuality.

Outside of independent films or films made primarily for a gay audience, this trend did not really change in America until Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain (2005), which was a major benchmark in modern gay cinema. [19] It was one of the first major motion pictures to feature a love story with two leading homosexual roles. The film provided a new mainstream outlook of homosexuality on film and in society. Other films such as Monster (2003), Milk (2008), Black Swan (2010) and Carol (2015) all feature famous actors and actresses portraying homosexual characters searching for love and happiness in oppressive societies.

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