The film Philadelphia (1993) tells the story of Andy Beckett, a successful lawyer who is fired from his prominent firm because the partners discover he had AIDS. While Beckett’s lawyer, Joe Miller, was initially reluctant to take on the case of unlawful dismissal, in large part due to homophobia, this pivotal scene changes his mind. Upon running into Miller in a law library, Beckett shares a precedent setting Supreme Court decision that positioned AIDS as a handicap or disability. Using the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as justification, the Supreme Court prohibited discrimination against those who have AIDS, deeming them a “group” or class of people with similar characteristics. Coming on the heels of bias and homophobia associated with AIDS–what was commonly referred to as an “epidemic” in the 1980s–Philadelphia offered a rare and historically significant representation of the disease and those who suffered once contracting it.
How does Beckett convince Miller of the validity of his case against Beckett’s former employer?
Based on his representation in this scene, how do we know Beckett is sick?
Think about the shot choices in this scene. Why does the director choose to intercut with extreme close ups of Beckett and Miller for most of the scene? Why does he pull out for a wider shot followed by one from above (bird’s-eye) toward the end of the scene?
The Supreme Court decision indicates that prejudice around AIDS exacts a “social death.” What is a “social death”? Do you think this description applies to other forms of discrimination? Why? Why not?