Thursday, August 14, 2014

This is the essence of discrimination.

Last week, I was on the West Coast for the first time in almost twenty years. At dinner on our final night, I saw this sign on my way into the bathroom:

Now, living in the small mid-Atlantic town (/Hellhole) that I do, I'd never seen anything like that before. In fact, it kind of took me by surprise. Not only because of my own ignorance on the topic (I'd honestly never even considered this was an issue), but that a place of business would be cool enough to make it policy. 

I've been home now for almost a week, and it has occurred to me that there are likely dozens, maybe even hundreds of groups that face persecution, that well-meaning (though uninformed) people such as myself know nothing about. We don't know their struggles, and know nothing of what it's like to walk a mile in their shoes. If only mainstream cinema could help.

Please don't think I'm making light of the socially aware movie, because I think that if done properly, they can make a difference.

I was too young to gauge the importance and social relevance of 1993's Philadelphia at the time of its release (I was 14), but seeing it for the first time recently, I feel it's safe to say that it mattered. Watching Tom Hanks (as Andrew Beckett) deteriorate firsthand while battling not only AIDS but the stigma that comes with it, must have opened eyes. Now, however, it almost feels dated, if not altogether primitive, to see the open persecution of a regular guy simply because he's gay.

Actually, Beckett was more than a regular guy, in fact, he was a damn fine employee. But when an older partner at the law firm where he works notices a lesion on his forehead, people begin to talk. Eventually, Beckett is terminated, not because of his lifestyle or illness (officially, anyway), but due to incompetence. Well, manufactured incompetence, actually. And after trying eight other lawyers to take his wrongful-termination case, Beckett turns to an old rival, Joe "the TV Guy" Miller, played by Denzel Washington. Miller is privately disgusted by homosexuals, but takes the case after seeing Beckett chastised in a local library. From there, it's a heavy dose of courtroom drama, liberally sprinkled with a clear social agenda: to thoughtfully portray the lives of people living (and dying) with AIDS in America.

Overall, the film works, as Hanks and Washington create characters that we care about and see ourselves in. Sure, it's a bit heavy-handed at times, and, in my opinion, comes off overly sentimental, but it's understandable within the context of when the film was made. As important as I think being the AIDS movie is, I think the responsibility is a heavy burden, sometimes suffocating the narrative. Remember, this is coming from someone looking back two decades later, in a world much more aware of the disease.

Aware of nothing, social or otherwise, are the Yays and Boos. They're not a big fan of discussing social issues, only because they're stupid and pointless. The Yays and Boos, that is, not the soc-...oh, nevermind.

  • Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington certainly deliver. Hanks physical transformation is jarringly authentic, on par with Denzel's emotional one.
  • I think that Springsteen's Streets of Philadelphia is an incredible song, even if when it's used it doesn't really make sense.
  • Antonio Banderas shows up as Beckett's partner, and brings a kindness you rarely see from El Mariachi. I really enjoyed his character here.
  • Dr. J appears randomly, which is a Boo, but he shows up in the scene where Denzel drops off the summons, which is totally a Yay.
  • Andy's family? They are the best. The. Best.
  • This flick, even though it's a constant knife to your heart, it moves so quickly. Very tightly paced.
  • Dude. The scene where Denzel's Miller asks Beckett to take his shirt off floored me. I was crushed.
  • And finally, the end. I feel like it was almost a cheap shot to literally emotionally cripple the soon-to-be exiting movie audience, but it's also the perfect way to end the story, too. Damn it.
  • Jason Robards plays a rich jerk. Surprise!
  • Denzel's Joe Miller is a tough one to read. He's kind of a dick...a huge one. But to be fair, he has to embody all that is wrong with humanity.
  • Library Guy. THIS GUY IS AN ASSHOLE. Oh, sorry. This guy is an asshole.
  • Initially, I wanted to Boo Mary Steenburgen as the opposing legal team's shark. But, turns out, she was awesome. The Boo? Misguided preconceptions.
  • Denzel's wink. I love it, sure, but what it lead to was ridiculous.
  • I guess it's a classic scene, but I really didn't get the opera scene. Whatever it shows, it took me out of the movie. Like, far out.
  • And finally, late in the trial, Andy goes down. Hard. Passes out. And while I get it, it also seemed completely f--king ridiculous. I mean, I'm thinking about, say, a thousand eyes are on him at all times, right? You think somebody might have noticed something was amiss? 
You know, diversity is welcomed here, too. Honestly. We're not concerned with your age, sex, color or creed. And if you have to use the bathroom while you're reading this, we don't care what bathroom you use. Hell, from where we're standing? You don't even have to stand up. Just go..

Won't bother us one bit.


  1. Cool review. It's been many years since I've watched this which is sad because I actually own it on DVD. Gotta check it out soon. Btw, come down here to the Bible Belt where I now live. You'll see discrimination is alive and well. Sigh.

    1. You know, Wendell, I struggled with this post because I didn't want to come off dismissive and clueless (well, more than usual, anyway), but I honestly was shocked seeing that sign, you know? Not in a bad way, I just never thought of it. And dialing it back to the film, there were a ton of parts of Beckett's life I just wasn't aware of, you know? It's eye-opening, even twenty years later.

      I live in a pretty big small town if that makes sense, and rarely get to Philly or any of the big cities nearby. But, believe me, discrimination is alive and well here, too. Ugh.

  2. I lol'd at your library guy yelling. I've never actually seen this film, but I feel like I should. I think that sign you posted is wonderful. I love seeing companies do things like that.

    1. You should check it out, Brittani. I'm not sure it will resonate as much as seeing it 1993 would have, but still worth seeing.

      That sign is such a small thing, but it's cool, you know?

  3. Yeah, as you know...not a fan of the film or the performance...but I do get the importance of the film in retrospect to the times. I'd recommend Laurence Anyways for social awareness and gender identification tolerance.

    Also, that opera scene...yeah...that was awful.

    1. I'm pretty sure you gave Hanks an F, right? An effing F, if I remember correctly (/just checked your website to confirm). Anywho, while the quality of the performance can be debated, the importance of the film cannot. But watching it now? It makes '93 look like '83. It's crazy.

      I've never heard of Laurence Anyways, but I'd be willing to check it out..

      That opera scene? What the shit was that?

  4. It has been a LONG time since I saw this movie -- I think I watched it with The Hubby when it was first released. It did seem like a groundbreaking film at the time, and I remember really liking it. (I have always been a big fan of Tom Hanks). But I don't remember the movie well now.

    1. I'd be interested to hear what you have to say seeing it now, I wonder if it would come off a bit melodramatic at this point? If I remember correctly, it was one of those movies that you had to see, but I was a freshman in high school. If I had to do something, I didn't.

  5. I think the film is to this day relevant. There is still so much stigma on AIDS and gay people. And hell yeah the movies can change people somehow. My mother turned slightly less homophobic thanks to Brokeback Mountain. I think if she saw this one too it would have helped further.

    The opera scene is ridiculous but that ending kills me every time.

    1. I agree with you, Sati. It's not as if AIDS is gone, it just seems, at least from say...a mainstream media standpoint, it's not what it was in the 80's and early 90's. Maybe I'm wrong about that?

      It's funny you mention Brokeback, as I was just talking to some 'guy's guys' who looked at me like I f--king crazy when I told them that I had seen it theatrically. They were like, there's no way in Hell I'd see that kind of movie. These were pretty decent guys, too, which makes it even worse.

      That damn opera scene! It's just sooooo out there....But the ending? My goodness. I think a literal knife in the heart would hurt less.

  6. Glad you liked this one as a whole. I understand and appreciate that people have problems with it, but there's something about this film that has always resonated with me. I love most everything about it, but, yes, that librarian... what an asshole. "Whatever, sir."

    Ah, and that end fucking kills me.

    1. That end was absolutely perfect. I think it temporarily broke me.

      I think had I seen the film years ago, ir would have resonated with me more. And honestly, as good as it was, I was expecting more...if that makes any sense.

  7. That's a great sign and it's terrific to see the progress it represents. Perhaps not nationwide, unfortunately these things never happen quickly but it's a start.

    Philadelphia was an event when it was released being the first mainstream picture to really confront the situation with top flight stars. It's too bad it's not a better movie. I saw it in the theatre at the time and found it heavy handed and didactic. I haven't watched it since and can't imagine how much worse it would seem now. Other better films had already addressed the concerns Philadelphia dealt with but without the exposure this one brought.

    An Early Frost actually was a huge step forward eight years before this as the first film with a decent budget and a noteworthy cast, Aidan Quinn, Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara and Sylvia Sidney, to examine the impact of the disease both on the sick person, potential loss of job and health care, refusal of medical care, possible spurning by those close to you and of course at that time the short life expectancy, and the victim's family but that had been on TV.

    Longtime Companion, a superior film had also dealt with discrimination in a less ham-fisted way when it alluded to the fact that only specific funeral homes would handled AIDS cases and that the condition of one character had to be lied about so that his company wouldn't know the truth and another, an actor, couldn't get work because as a person living with AIDS he was uninsurable even though he was well.