With the Academy Awards fast approaching, we’re all chatting about the movies of the year. We’re also discussing our favorite Oscar winners of years past. Those of you who know me won’t be surprised at my pick. Those who don’t know me well? Hm. I don’t know how you’ll feel, but let’s find out, shall we? If I can get a drumroll, I’ll drop this happy little bomb. My favorite Oscar-winner is…Philadelphia.
When Philadelphia came out, it was met with such mixed reaction in the small town I lived in, and the idea seemed to underscore the very message of the film. I fought with my parents for the right to go see the film, and I’m so glad they relented. The movie left me broken on several levels. I literally wept at the main character’s arc (played by Tom Hanks), from starting out happy and healthy and quietly gay to being forced to “out” himself. He faced discrimination in the workplace as well as in the hospital where he was supposed to be receiving “care,” and his life became a bit of a public spectacle when he chose to sue his former employer for letting him go for suspect reasons after it was disclosed he was gay.
One of the scenes that hit me hardest was the one where Denzel Washington’s character rushed to the doctor to find out if he could have contracted AIDS/HIV from simply shaking Hanks’s hand. That scene, the homophobic lawyer who is uneducated in regards to the disease and overreacts? That personified the town I lived in. It was a (VERY) small, rural New Mexico town. We were 100 miles from Target, for Pete’s sake. The nearest airport was 3 1/2 hours away. We were isolated, incredibly remote and the town was filled with small-town ideology. My mindset was considered radical and liberal because I was a strong proponent of equality across the board. I didn’t care what the reasons were someone had been shut out. I just wanted them included. And I wanted the small-town fear that surrounded the AIDS/HIV reality of the 90’s to be squashed by education and tolerance.
Philadelphia was more than a 90-minute Oscar-worthy performance for Tom Hanks. This movie was a message to those who needed it most. The real shame of it all was that those who truly needed it most probably missed it thanks to homophobia, discrimination or fear of learning their beliefs could be logically challenged.
I’ll always be grateful that Philadelphia came along when it did and that Hollywood recognized it for what it was — as much message as movie.