Gender Oppression Essay

This essay has a total of 1547 words and 8 pages.

Gender Oppression


Rated: PG-13 Release Date: 23-Dec-1993 DVD Date: 02-Nov-2004 HBS User Ratings
Directed By: Written By: Cast: 1 review, 12 ratings

Jonathan Demme Ron Nyswaner Tom Hanks
Denzel Washington Awesome 16.67%
Antonio Banderas Worth A Look 11.11%
Our Reviewer Says: Jason Robards Just Average 16.67%

"It's a touchy subject."
- MP Bartley
Joanne Woodward Pretty Crappy 44.44%
Mary Steenburgen Sucks 11.11%

Now here's a controversial one - the portrayal of homosexuals and the ravages of AIDS in
the movies. How exactly does a machine like Hollywood, not exactly known for its subtlety,
cover subjects like these? Does it make a gritty, realistic adult portrayal of the issues
at hand? Or does it make a soft-hearted and ultimately dishonest plea for acceptance? Take
a guess.

Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) is one of Philadelphia's most promising lawyers. He's the hot
rookie and is hired by a top law firm headed by Charles Wheeler (Jason Robards). Andy is
also gay and dying from AIDS. When the physical signs of the disease begin to manifest
themselves, the firm gets cold on Andy and he's out of a job. They tell him it's because
he has an attitude problem and his work is mediocre, but Andy knows it's more personal
than that. After no other law firm will take his case for unfair dismissal, his last
resort is old adversary Joe Miller (Denzel Washington). Joe, a homophobe with an innate
fear of AIDS, is reluctant to take the case also because of his personal reasons, but
after seeing Andy humiliated in a public library, can't resist standing his corner with

You can see immediately why Hollywood took this film to their heart. Hey, it's about
ISSUES! But in typical Hollywood fashion, they can't resist the temptation to dumb the
issue down to make it easier to sell. It's a difficult thing sometimes, criticising a film
like 'Philadelphia' as it leaves the critic open to accusations of homophobia themselves,
but 'Philadelphia' patronises the homosexual community so much, it's like an instruction
video for schoolkids "Listen kids - gays are people too, you know?".

For instance, Andy's family are a carbon-copy of the Walton's. A more loving, accepting
family you could never hope to meet, right down to the last second cousin. But wouldn't it
have been more interesting and realistic to show some conflict within the family? Would
all of Andy's male heterosexual relatives been so accepting of him? I know people now who
are still ostracised from their family because they're gay.

And, gosh darn it, if Andy isn't the sweetest human being you could ever hope to meet!
He's handsome, great at his job, and loves babies too! This isn't to say gay men aren't
like that at all, but this film is so scared of being homophobic, that it refuses to
portray Andy as anything less than whiter-than-white. This is where it's so patronising,
that it becomes damaging.

There's one instant where the film does attempt to address the grey areas of these issues.
Andy is questioned as to how he got AIDS , and it's revealed that it comes from an
anonymous sexual encounter in a cinema. But this issues of personal responsibility is
neatly sidestepped by Joe asking Andy to take his shirt off and reveal the lesions on his
body. So just when the film is starting to make you question just how much danger Andy has
been putting himself in, it distracts you with a moment of 'yuck' to make you conveniently
forget these very relevant questions. "Hey everybody, don't worry about how he got it,
just look at how nasty it's made him look!". It's this fogging of the personal and moral
questions that makes 'Philadelphia' ultimately dishonest. Would this trick have been
played if it was heterosexual man? Probably not, and it again highlights just how
patronising the films attitude is. We have to tip-toe around the dark areas, because he's
- whisper it quietly- gay. There's attempts to colour in the murky moral areas, but it
takes more than groups of protesters crying "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and
Steve!" to achieve that.

Likewise, the law firm Andy sues. Instead of making them flawed, but understandable human
beings, they're monsters. They're homophobic, racist and sexist. All at the same time!
Who'd have thought it. They sit around in their boys locker room telling homophobic and
misogynistic jokes with an uncomfortable Andy present. Does this really happen? Very
probably. Is there more to human beings than the odd sick or bad taste joke? Very
probably, but the the film won't show that, it's too busy showing things in black and
white. And 'Philadelphia' is guilty of the very cliches it sets out to crucify. Joe gets
hit upon by a handsome student in a drug store. Because Joe is obviously gay as he's
defending a gay man in court, right?

This was the first Tom Hanks performance to garner him an Oscar and it's easy to see why -
he's playing a gay man AND a victim of prejudice and disease! The Academy voters couldn't
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