Film and Television

Start Free Trial

In Philadelphia, what social issues does Andrew Beckett face at work due to his sexual orientation?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The protagonist of the moviePhiladelphiais Tom Hanks, who plays main character Andrew Beckett: a young, charming and extremely gifted lawyer who makes partner at the top-of-the-line law firm  Wyant Wheeler Hellerman Tetlow & Brown.

When it is found out that Andrew has contracted AIDS and, moreover, contracted it from a gay lover, the otherwise uber-conservative company sabotages Andrew's blooming career by misplacing a very important complaint on purpose, by making the complaint show up hours later after Andrew almost loses it, by blaming Andrew for misplacing such an important document and, as a result, by firing him.

Although, like Andrew's defense attorney Miller claims, it is understandable that people panic when they hear of someone having AIDS, the testimony of the different partners from the firm point that, aside from that, they were truly disgusted by the homosexual orientation of Andrew and viewed AIDS as the punishment for what their statement read to be

his lifestyle...(and) reckless behavior

This being said, the fact that Andrew was gay drew anger among his colleagues. First, because his colleagues were already prejudiced and were homophobes. This is evident in the direct examination of Mr. Collins, who described one of his former peers in the Navy, a gay man, the following way:

He, uh, strutted around quarters naked trying to get everybody to notice him. Made everyone sick. It was destroying our morale. So we let him know this kind of behavior was not acceptable.

Second, when you achieve partnership in a firm you are either there for a long time, have built a strong bond, or are incredible at what you do. Andrew had two of those qualities: he was actively recruited by Charles Wheeler himself, and he built a strong bond with the partners. The fact that he hid his truth from them, although it is his right as a man and as a citizen, draws in the social issue of "esprit the corps", especially in the Ol'Boy big money groups: if you are in a team, you are all in, or you are out.

Third, social ignorance, stereotyping, urban legends, myths, and lies create a long line of connotations that grow out of an erroneous belief. The lack of knowledge about the AIDS virus in the 1980's led to a pandemonium where people ran from one another in fear of becoming infected. AIDS also became attached to the gay culture, first becoming known as "gay cancer". As a result, people began to attach false connotations to the homosexual or lesbian lifestyles, all indicating that AIDS was inevitable, and that they were debauched. InPhiladelphiathis is evident when Denzel Washington's character (Andrew's attorney Miller) tells the judge this very thing: that society, rather than educate itself more about the disease, feasts upon making assumptions, believing myths, and drawing wrong conclusions.

everybody in this courtroom is thinking about sexual orientation... Who does what to whom and how they do it...they're looking at Andrew Beckett [et.al]. They're wondering about it... they are looking at me and thinking about it...this case is not just about AIDS

This is the real social issue in Philadelphia:

...[it's] about the... public's hatred, our loathing, our fear of homosexuals, and how that climate of hatred and fear translated into the firing of this particular homosexual, my client, Andrew Beckett.

Therefore, ignorance, stereotyping and prejudice are the main issues.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Philadelphia what are some of the social issues that Andrew Beckett have to deal with regarding his sexual orientation "in the community"

Just like with the social issues that happen at work and with peers, the character of Andrew Beckett has to endure the following issues regarding his illness:

  • lack of education regarding his condition
  • public stigma associated to his condition
  • labeling and stereotyping associated to his condition
  • unreasonable or irrational fear from the public toward him as an AIDS patient
  • unfounded or unrealistic assumptions made of him due to his disease
  • discrimination, prejudice, and illegal action which, in his case, resulted in his very unethical firing after being falsely set up to make a major mistake.

The script of the movie observes a lot of verbal aggression manifested in the public opinion against homosexuals, which came up over and over in testimony during the trial against Wyant Wheeler Hellerman Tetlow & Brown for firing Andrew.

However, a poignant moment that summarizes the extent to which society shuns AIDS patients was the scene at the library. In this scene, we find Andrew using the public library while showing visible signs of AIDS. As the people stare at him uncomfortably, the librarian approaches him and says:

Sir, wouldn't you be more comfortable in a study room?

At this point Andrew sees that the  people in the library are staring at him, for which he responds wisely,

 No. Would it make you more comfortable?

Therefore, the ignorance of the community directly affects the civil rights of Andrew Beckett because society makes a public circus out of things that it does not know very much about.

Those who end up as the main attraction of such circus, like in the case of Andrew, will be pariahs of society for years to come. Hence, Andrew is now the scapegoat through which the hypocritical and the sanctimonious alike will caustically channel their own self-hatred and debauched tendencies in hopes of keeping an image of greatness by making the weaker link into the weakest.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Philadelphia what are some of the social issues that Andrew Beckett had to deal with regarding his sexual orientation "with peers"

The social issues that Andrew Beckett had to deal with regarding his sexual orientation with his peers go beyond those that he had to confront when dealing with society, as a whole, or at work.

Andrew Beckett, a young and admirable lawyer was recruited by the top lawyer firm Wyant Wheeler Hellerman Tetlow & Brown. Not only was he hired for the firm, he was actually recruited by Charles Wheeler, himself.

During Andy's testimony, we find that he is a huge admirer of Charles Wheeler, and that Andy looked up to him as a mentor. His description of Wheeler fits the picture of someone who has developed a familiar affection toward his boss which stems from the deep professional admiration that he had for him.

Possessed of an encyclopedic knowledge of the law, a razor-sharp litigator, genuine leader, gifted at bringing out the very best in others, and an awesome ability to illuminate the most complex of legal concepts to a colleague, to a courtroom, to a man in the street.

Andrew tells in his testimony that he refrained from sharing his personal lifestyle choices with his boss because it is not the professional thing to do, but also because, he explained, during a time at the spa the men made a homophobic joke that left him relieved of not having confessed.

However, the fact that he did not tell was used by the peers as an excuse to call Andrew a liar, and a deceitful person. His choice of not telling was also used against him to prove that he is someone with no morals, nor values. This, because they needed to find many ways to make Andrew look like a bad peer in order to elicit the antipathy of the jury. And all of this is to hide the fact that it was their prejudice, hatred, discrimination, and stereotypical view of homosexuals, along with their panic against AIDS, what really made them sabotage Andrew's career and fire him from the firm.

During Wheeler's testimony, the latter claims not to have cared if he had known, whether his employee was homosexual or not. However, the social issue among peers was brought up by Andrew's lawyer with these words:

Remembering all the hugs and the handshakes, the intimate moments in the sauna, the friendly pats on the backside that you and Andrew exchanged, like guys exchange sometimes...it made you say, my God, what does this say about me?

Hence, here's the biggest of all the social issues aside from stereotyping and discriminate, harass, and sabotage a career: the issue of association. Peers, bosses, even clients may fear, out of prejudice, that they will be associated to Andrew; that they work with him because they are "like" him, and that, since they are like him, they to might end up with AIDS.

The final peer-problem Andrew faced was the sanctimonious nature of an ultra-conservative group of peers. This is evident when Wheeler claims that Andrew's problems are a result of "bending rules". To which the attorney asks:

 Explain to me like I am a 4-year old: Who makes these rules that you're talking about. You?

And the certainly biased answer was: 

Read your Bible, Mr. Miller. Old and the New Testament. Pretty valuable rules in there.

Hence, peers make up a common interest team. In the team, each member is valued, trusted, and hoped upon. Andrew's group did not fit him, nor he fit them. However, that should have not been the case, for their were not in a fraternity, but in a law office. Discrimination was the unfortunate ending to the peer relationship. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on