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Philadelphia (1993) film plot summary

The film is about a Philadelphia lawyer, Andrew (Andy) Beckett, who contracted AIDS and was
consequently fired from the prestigious Wyant Wheeler law firm because of the illness. The company he
worked with insisted that he was fired not because of the knowledge of his disease, but because his
overall performance in the company allegedly degraded to the point of mediocrity. Andy however, was
convinced that the real case is illegal dismissal because his bosses found out about his condition and
panicked.
The constitution of the United States grants protection to workers or employees of any group or
company for cases when they become inflicted with any form of illness. This means that company
owners or managers cannot fire anyone simply because they have a disease or even decrease or cease all
the benefits they are entitled to. This fact urged Andy to pursue in filing a lawsuit against his former
executives with the help of Joe Miller, who is Andys African-American lawyer.
Mr. Miller at first, hesitated and eventually initially declined Andys case for personal reasons. He
(Miller) is in fact prejudiced against both homosexuals and persons with AIDS and his rejection of Andy
haunted him. He eventually comes to realize that the discrimination Andy Beckett is facing, is both
unethical and illegal in all respects. He became more informed about the nature of the disease and
agreed to take the case.
The trial became an exhausting course especially for Andy whos deteriorating health, barely manages to
perform at a minimum. Andys colleagues also gave their testimonies on how the work environment they
are in also discriminates them based on their ethnicity, health, and sexuality even if it may seem subtle at
first. Joe Miller eventually throws a fit on how the real case is not just about AIDS but also about
sexuality and overall discrimination and how the fears of society have led to such unethical treatment of
affected individuals. Other pages in his (Andys) life before the conclusion of the trial are also shown to
signify that persons with AIDS (or with any other disease) can live full lives when they are still able.
The last few hearings portray how Andy really felt when he was still working with his former company.
He (Andy) showed no true bitterness or remorse for his life especially during his experience with the
company. At the conclusion of the trials, the truth became apparent and Andys case was won however,
he had to be rushed to the hospital because his illness was at its worst. Andy succumbed to his illness

however in the end, it taught Miller and the world a very important lesson about life. The lawsuit will
come to represent a major fight against prejudice, and thus a fight for justice.
It's that every now and again - not often, but occasionally - you get to be a part of justice being done.
That really is quite a thrill when that happens.
-Andrew Beckett

Main Issues in the Film


Discrimination
One of the central themes portrayed in the film is discrimination based on HIV (AIDS) status and sexual
orientation. This ethical issue is inarguably the most important that it becomes a major pillar in the
message of the film.
The library scene in particular highlights this as the librarian who realized that the protagonist was
suffering from a disease, abruptly suggested that he must reside at a private room where he may be
comfortable with his study. This insensitive behavior landed Andrew cold stares from the surrounding
people which indicates that they became uncomfortable, knowing that someone with HIV-AIDS is
sharing a seat with them. Andrew comments on this and asked the librarian if it would make him more
comfortable instead.
The portrayal of discrimination is very evident in this film even in the subtlest of ways. A drinking
parlor scene shows a bartender saying that gays make him sick. This highlights the prejudices of
society thats based merely on the fact that a person has divergent preferences or simply in the idea that
this person is gay/lesbian and not on who this person really is or what they have done for society. What
is seen as blatant and unethical discrimination by the Philadelphians, merely became an expression of
their thoughts and feelings based on their moral code that seems to derogate homosexual individuals.
The very saddening part of this is the fact that some people do not reflect on the matter even if their
personal expressions attack on the principles of morality and justice.

Illness

Lets temporarily view illness (AIDS in this case) as a crime that deserves punishment for a moment and
try to analyze. We must then first investigate further on human nature. It is without a doubt, true that
society has always investigated, categorized, and segregated things relating to identity, personal
condition and even social conduct that we now have many names and descriptions for the many
activities and sins of modern living.
The film highlights a big chunk of these concerns which is manifested in ways on how society views
people who are different or who are unable to perform on what is expected of them due disabilities or
illnesses. In the film for example, there are people who made a hate rally calling his (Andrews) illness a
sort of gay plague and that it was a punishment well-deserved.
The AIDS problem made everyone very much afraid and the fears that came with it brought about
various stigmas and discrimination associated with this illness.
On the brighter side of things, there are memorable scenes in Andys life before the conclusion of the
trial which signify that persons with AIDS (or with any other disease) can live free and full lives when
they are still able.
Identity
The main song that was made specifically for the film titled Streets of Philadelphia by Bruce
Springsteen reads, when the secrets came unfurled/ Tell me Im not to blame/ I wont be ashamed of
love. This single line summarizes the struggle of individuals specifically homosexual and the ill
especially when their personal identity or true conditions are revealed. It personally asks that they should
not be faulted for who they are. That no one should be afraid of our own identities and how we conduct
our personal lives.

Dissecting the film through Sociological Theories


The film highlights many of the inner workings of todays society especially in the corporate and justice
system. Let us first describe the role of the case that Andrew Beckett decided to file against his former
employers. The paramount case, which was later won, serves as a model for future judicial decision
making regarding similar cases. The intention that the film may have, especially with that scene, is to
guide public opinion and deter wannabe offenders in committing illegal dismissals. The

disproportionately large fine for the case may have also been intended for the purpose of instilling the
idea that such acts of discrimination especially when committed by big companies, are condoned and
greatly dealt with.
Another important aspect of the film is the concept of homosexuality. It is reasonable to believe that the
function of this form of deviance on the perceptions and behavior of the public is related to
discrimination and its functions. To put it simply, the reason why prejudices exist is to put positive (it
creates solidarity for persons with the same line of thinking and stigmas) and negative (people elated at
hearing that a particular homosexual person is dying for example) feelings at others.
A symbolic-interactionist approach in understanding the film can also be used here since the very stigma
and prejudices that are exhibited in the film are based on the perceptions or labels that individuals in a
society perpetuate. There is a scene in the film where Joe Miller explains to Andrew Beckett on how he
and the people he knows are taught on how queers behave and how they interact with other people. They
are said to be labelled as sexual predators and I quote, Let me tell you something, Andrew, when youre
brought up the way I am, the way most people are in this country, theres not a whole lot of discussion
about homosexuality or what do you call it, alternate lifestyles. As a kid youre taught that queers are
funny, queers are weird, queers dress up like their mother. That theyre afraid to fight, that theyre a
danger to little kids and that all they want to do is get into your pants. That pretty much sums up the
general thinking out there if you want to know the truth about it. This, I believe, is the reason why Mr.
Miller initially declined Andrew and it is clearly represented in the film on how these sweeping
generalizations overwhelm individuals with surging emotions, blocking out critical thinking and sound
judgement.
Lastly, it can be argued that it may have been for the best interest of Andys employers that he be fired.
Keeping him at the company may have increased the organizations health insurance costs and he may as
well be considered a health hazard. There is conflict when the two groups (the side of Andy and his
former employers side) are analyzed. A very faint or subtle line is drawn of the perceptions of the
(Wyant Wheeler) group towards homosexuals and people with the illness of HIV/AIDS. An example
would be how one senior executive treats one of his workers who contracted the virus through blood
transfusion. The worker simply described the experience with the senior official to be filled with disgust
in an Oh-my-god, get away from me! way. This created a conflict in the work environment especially

on the worker (as Melissa Benedict) and this goes against their common interest of mutual welfare and
benefit.