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Philadelphia (1993)

I chose to watch the film Philadelphia for my post. I was drawn to this film because I am an avid supporter for LGBTQ+ rights and have personal experience with a family member who deals with the struggles of the virus HIV. Also, who doesn’t love Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington?

In the film Philadelphia, lawyer Andrew Beckett was fired from his job at Philadelphia’s most prestigious law firm despite the fact that he worked as a brilliant lawyer and has always had an amazing job performance. In response, he launches a wrongful termination suit against the attorneys who fired him from his law firm because they fired him for being gay and HIV-positive. Three major themes portrayed in the film that are also represented in some of the texts we have read throughout the course of the semester are discrimination, good vs. evil, and justice.

The first connection I drew between the film and our class materials was the main theme addressed in Philadelphia and “Whiteness as Property” by Cheryl I. Harris. Both the film and the text address discriminatory law. In “Whiteness as Property,” Harris examines the way in which the legal system has come to favor whites over people of color. Similarly, Beckett’s case in Philadelphia addresses the way in which the legal system has come to disfavor those who are homosexual. The attorneys of his law firm fired Beckett after finding out he was gay and HIV-positive, which is absolute discrimination. They had no other reason to fire him based off of his reputable job performance. Discriminatory laws have been put in place, but cases like Andrew Beckett’s still occur. In “Whiteness as Property,” Harris addresses the racism that has been embedded into the American society as a result of white privilege being protected under the law. The same concept is addressed in Philadelphia to those who are homosexual or suffer from HIV.

There were several connections I was able to draw between Philadelphia and To Kill a Mockingbird. The first connection I made is the historical context in each story in relation to the themes of discrimination. To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in the 1930’s. During this time, racial discrimination was an extreme issue. The vast majority of the citizens of Maycomb were racist. Philadelphia takes place in Philadelphia (shocking, right?) while the AIDs epidemic was fairly new and many homosexual people, especially those infected with HIV, faced extreme discrimination. People were not only downright homophobic, but they were even afraid to go near someone infected with HIV despite the fact that the disease can only be transmitted through bodily fluids. Therefore, there is a major connection between Andrew Beckett and Tom Robinson. Beckett relates to Tom Robinson in the sense that they are both victims of discrimination. Beckett suffers from discrimination for his sexual orientation disease while Tom Robinson suffers from racial discrimination.

Another connection I made between To Kill a Mockingbird and the film was the theme good versus evil. This is portrayed through the courtroom scenes. The case and courtroom scenes pictured in Philadelphia reminded me a lot of those featured in To Kill a Mockingbird. The court officials in To Kill a Mockingbird are described as “little gray-faced men, they seemed untouched by the wind or sun,” while the attorneys who fired Beckett are also gray-faced, unlively, and dull. It reminded me of the way Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson were the “good” in the case in To Kill a Mockingbird while Bob Ewell is the “evil.” Similarly, Andrew Beckett and Joe Miller play the role of “good” while the other attorneys of Beckett’s ex-firm play the role of “evil.” I also found that Andrew Beckett and Joe Miller possessed many traits that reminded me of Atticus Finch. Beckett is an excellent lawyer who genuinely loves his job and enjoys “justice being done.” These three men are passionate about their careers, wise, intelligent, diligent, and committed to justice. Just like Atticus was the only lawyer willing to defend Tom Robinson in his case, Joe Miller was the only attorney willing to represent Andrew Beckett in his case. They all represent the side that readers and viewers want to root for as they read/watch.

Unfortunately, in the end of the film, justice was served but Beckett falls fatally ill and soon passes away in the hospital. The jury voted in his favor, awarding him back for pay, pain, suffering, and punitive damages valued at over $5 million. Although justice was served, and Beckett won his case, it was terribly sad to see him die at the end of the film. This was similar to the unjust death of Tom Robinson. Beckett and Tom Robinson were both innocent men who did not deserve to die. However, both stories were able to carry out the themes of discrimination and provide some sort of happy-ish ending. Although he died, Beckett won his case. Although Tom Robinson was killed, justice was ultimately served when Bob Ewell was killed.

One thought on “Philadelphia (1993)”

  1. I really like your observation about the extent to which both Philadelphia and TKAM stage trials that are rooted in a moral certainty, from the film’s perspective, about what’s right and what’s wrong. The film version of TKAM certainly set the precedent for this in U.S. cinema in the 60s. And like TKAM, as you note, Philadelphia doesn’t actually end with the triumphant verdict; it ends with a tragedy that’s beyond the scope of the law completely. More to think about there!


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