Masculinity is a set of features or qualities which are possessed by a male. For this essay I will be focusing on the film and courtroom drama Philadelphia 19931 in relation to the essay question. As part of my analysis I will be assessing how masculinity is portrayed through the sickness melodrama. Themes such as race, gender, and sexuality will be key aspects of my argument to formulate ideas surrounding these themes. The film was produced in the 1993 and the epidemic of AIDS was first noticed around 1981 so I will be looking at how it affected America and the ways in which people reacted and dealt with this illness. AIDS is one of the main issues in this film and I will be discussing how the stigma against it led to many troubles for homosexuals, the poor, people who used drugs and the ways in which the awareness about it and acceptance for those infected was not prominent at the time of the film until much later.
Joe Miller is a homophobic lawyer who represents his client Andrew who is a homosexual rejected help by 9 lawyers to fight his case, against his employer. The case is fought based on unfair dismissal and Andrews theory that the company deliberately fires him for having AIDS. We see Joe feel uncomfortable in a scene where Andrew visits his office after falling sick seeking his legal advice to fight the case. In the scene we see Joe welcoming Andrew into his office and shaking his hand however he reluctantly pulls away when Andrew tells him he has AIDS. This suggests that his illness and the stigma around it prevents Joe from being open minded towards him and it immediately hinders Joes judgment of Andrew in his mind. In the scene Joes eyes are fixated on Andrews movement and everything he touches makes Joe feel uncomfortable which is evident from his vacant but worried expression. The way Joes acts after finding out about the illness is clearly different from the moment, he is oblivious about the AIDS where we see he is much friendlier and more positive. A very common misconception was that AIDS can spread through physical contact which can relate to why Joe is assessing the movements of Andrew so closely with a lot of concentration. Throughout this scene we see his eyes follow every movement Andrew makes and Joe even looks at his hand which he used to greet Andrew and orders to see the doctor frantically as he wants to make sure he hasn’t caught anything. When Joe comes home and is speaking with his wife after meeting Andrew, we see his homophobic natures portrayed as he states “I admit it, ok? I’m prejudiced. I don’t like homosexuals”. It clearly instigates the idea that one of the reasons as to why he was biased towards Andrew was because of his sexuality. It also creates questions in the viewers mind as to how a man of such education and importance is narrow minded and negative about LGBT. The LGBT group which formulated in the 1980s supporting homosexuals and started to gain attention and people became more vocal about it during the time period in which the film was produced. However, relating to that point, it shows that whilst homosexuality did start to be viewed more positively there was negative views of it by many individuals like Joe which still exists in today’s modern society. In the same scene Joes morality is overshadowed when he learns about Andrews AIDS. When speaking to his wife he says, “ would you accept a client if you were constantly thinking, I don’t want this person to touch me… to even breathe on me”, which shows that he straight away distinguishes that he doesn’t want to get involved with the case because he is homophobic and thinks he can possibly contract AIDS. This scene correlates with the reservations Joe has of those infected with AIDS and homosexuals. It highlights the negativity surrounding AIDS during the time scale the film is produced and how it was a massive issue in the USA during this.
Throughout the film mise-en-scene shows many different meanings in various parts of the film. At the introduction of the film where the music is being played and the streets of Philadelphia are shown we see groups of people laughing and smiling which relates to Philadelphia being a city of love and togetherness and we see this through the happiness of the people and their high spirits, however we also see that this is not always the reality and Philadelphia does have its imperfections because we see a man begging for charity in the streets, and homeless people sitting on the floors. We also see a mixture of black and white people relating to diversity dismissing the idea of racism or discrimination. So, the mise-en-scene in these scenes suggests that positivity will be a theme in the film, but negativity equally cannot be dismissed. In addition to the mise-en-scene of the film when everyone is in the courtroom and the lawyer for Andrews bosses (Belinda) holds a mirror up to his face and talks about the lesions (area of skin which is infected and may be discoloured) on his face, it almost is a way of humiliating Andrew but also making a point to defend Andrews employer. In a way this educates the audience about the visual symptoms of AIDS and what it can look like however she uses this to her advantage to not only embarrass Andrew but to validate her argument that Wyant-Wheeler did not discriminate against Andrew due to his sexuality or health.
Masculinity is heavily associated with the melodrama and we see that the characterisation of Joe tries to portray a strong and masculine man. In the scene where Joe is at home with his wife for dinner after seeing the doctor from his meeting with Andrew in his office, he says to his wife “I don’t want to be in bed with anyone stronger than me… who has more hair on their chest, you can call me old fashioned, just call me a man”. The descriptive language to describe what we would call ‘manly features’ such as the ‘hair on the chest’ immediately shows how Joe sees himself as assertive and in control of his relationship relating to his masculine status which he thinks he withholds in his marriage. The adjective ‘strong’ implies that Joe doesn’t want to feel weakened by someone who is more powerful than him putting forward the idea that he sees his wife as the weaker person in the relationship and his idea of being a man is being stronger and more dominant. The term where he states you can call me ‘old-fashioned’ puts forward the idea that although more awareness about homosexuality was becoming more conscious people were still close minded to the idea and maybe not everyone was very accepting of homosexuality and that times hadn’t moved forward as much as people would have liked. Despite masculinity being an evident theme in the film the gender role of Andrew is shown as feminine. Evidence of this is that Andrew is aware of how to apply makeup which is seen as an action a woman would do. He applies makeup however to cover the lesions on his face from his illness. This portrayal of him feminises his character and goes against the stereotypical actions a man would do. Furthermore, masculinity in films has been a topic a writer called Robert Eberwein has addressed. He talks about prostate cancer which is a disease affecting many men around the world today. It is believed that many men fear of the possibility of having prostate cancer and are embarrassed by it. In his article he states, ‘They feel that seeing a doctor is fine for women and children, but that ‘real men’ only admit weakness by going to the doctor.”’2 which suggests that the men find it embarrassing or weak to talk and acknowledge issues regarding their sexual health. As prostate cancer is located near the bladder and the penis, for some men it can be a question of their manhood which makes it hard for them process and accept the illness when they suspect they have it. Studies show that for American men prostate cancer is a very big health issue. This links to masculinity in Philadelphia because when a woman was diagnosed with the AIDS virus it wasn’t humiliating or shameful to seek help or talk about it as it would be if a man contracted the disease. This links to Andrews character being feminine as the virus was a disease which was viewed as a homosexual disease. From our knowledge of people’s perceptions of homosexuals was feminine and weak which epitomises the depiction of Andrews character. In Roberts article he also mentions ‘the fear of being unmanly… temporary impotence is a problem that some men might be willing to die from rather than endure’3. The first section of the quote plays on the irony that Andrew dies from lack of medical attention when the treatment for AIDS wasn’t as developed like today, whereas the negativity and shame that surrounds the illness is able to silence men in our current from speaking out because of the fear of being subject to negative judgements. As more research and help is available to those affected with the disease people are still suffering in silence. In addition to the second part of the quote above ‘temporary impotence’4 shows that men would rather ignore the pain and problem they are going through rather than seek help. It also implies that men are aware of the health issues impotence can lead to further on in their lives however they choose to burden themselves to that pain because they simply cannot bear the negative judgment they’ll face from the public.
Although Philadelphia has said to be a breakthrough film in acknowledging the AIDS epidemic it has been heavily scrutinised by critics regarding many issues they have with the film. A quote from an article by the daily beast says ‘focus in this landmark gay movie seemed oddly straight… a way to lure as mass a straight audience to see it without scaring them off?5 which suggests that throughput the film there is no real intimacy shown between Andrew and his boyfriend. We don’t see much contact between the two which is strange to see as one of the main themes of the film is homosexuality however it fails to portray a relationship which adheres to this. In contrast to this criticism Andrew and his partner seem to be the only gay couple in the film which means the link to homosexual couples and AIDS is quite broad and doesn’t have much reference to this. So, the portrayal of positivity of homosexual individuals or couples fails to be shown in this film and there isn’t any specific scene in the film which tries to change people’s perceptions of gay couples or people. Another criticism which can made about Philadelphia is that Andrew is compelled to go to Joe for help who is obviously homophobic. If there was more awareness and help available for homosexuals then why wasn’t there anyone who was either a homosexual lawyer, or an institution which helps homosexual people from injustice which Andrew could have gone to for help? This relates to how help was limited for homosexual individuals and many people treated them immorally simply due to their sexuality. Going back to the criticism, why does Andrews last resort have to be seeking help from someone who has misconceptions and a dislike for homosexual people. Philadelphia also fails to portray a more realistic perception of AIDS as it shows Andrew being someone who suffers from it, but we do not see many other sufferers. We do not see different views from other people who suffer from AIDS which doesn’t give the film the uniqueness of capturing the audience’s attention and emotion in this way.
Through the course of the film we see Joes emotions towards Andrew compared to his first encounter with him gradually change. After addressing the news reporters outside of court and when Joe is seen to be having a drink at the bar he says ‘but a law has been broken, you remember the law’ which portrays his passion for his job. It also puts forward the idea that he can put his indifferences aside to bring about justice for anyone who is wronged no matter if they are homosexual or straight. The medium close up of Joe when he is saying that quote channels his strong opinion through his stern expression. When Joe asks the rhetorical question ‘you remember the law’ his tone condescending, and he tries to shift the focus of the case to the main issue which unfair dismissal and injustice. Towards the end of the film we see Joe make his last visit to Andrew in the hospital after their victory in court. From this scene we realise that Joe feels empathy towards Andrew, and he seems to show genuine care for him. In the scene Joe says ‘it was great working with you counsellor’ which shows the shift in his attitude towards Andrew and the change in the emotion he feels towards him, compared to when he met him in his office finding out Andrew had AIDS. In the same scene we see a close up of Andrew with the oxygen mask on. From the encounter where Joe goes to see the doctor after shaking Andrews hand, there is a major shift in behaviour in the hospital scene of the close up as we see Joe putting on the oxygen mask for Andrew when he is short of breath. This shows the major change in Joes emotions towards Andrew and he doesn’t feel anxious about catching AIDS which also suggests his ideology of the illness has changed and he has less belief in the idea that AIDS can spread through physical contact. The close up of Andrew also shows the state the illness brings him to, and he is very weak in this last scene where we see him. However, although this is the worse health, he is in throughout the film it seems to be the part where he is the most content and he tells his partner ‘I’m ready to go’ suggesting that he is content with knowing he is going to die because justice has been served and he feels liberated.
What we can see from the film is that Andrew has the support of his family through his ordeal. During a party at his parents house for their anniversary we see an emotional clip where his mother says ‘you get in there and fight for your rights’ which gives a sense of solidarity in his family and they support his decision to take his fight to court. We see the family tear up whilst talking about the trial suggesting that they have love for Andrew and he is dear to them because they are all positive whilst talking to him. During the duration of this scene we also see Andrew embracing a baby in his arms. This also shows that his family do not treat him differently to someone who isn’t suffering with AIDS. They don’t believe his illness is contagious and they don’t make him feel uncomfortable by changing their behaviour towards him, if we can take anything from this scene it’s that his family seem to love and spur him on to get the justice he deserves which is crucial to him.
To conclude, Philadelphia manages to give off a very powerful message about sexuality and it manages to highlight many issues about AIDS which many people are afraid to address. It acts as an educator to bring about information which is key for the audiences understanding about sexually transmitted diseases. It clarifies the inaccurate theories about AIDS which I have addresses in this essay, an example is the disease being able to spread through physical contact. We see in the film Andrew has contact with many people including his lawyer and they remain immune to the disease which is important in clearing up the confusion surrounding the theory. As far as the melodrama goes on to engage sickness with masculinity it merges the two to portray very different characters of both Joe and Andrew and we see masculinity portrayed by Joe through his use of language and actions but also a feminine portrayal of Andrew which is a weakened person compared to Joe who is strong and assertive. In his artice Robert Eberwein summarises his argument and says ‘No matter how positive the rendering of the character, he is still yet one more gay man with an irremediable physical limitation’6 which relates to Andrews character because the portrayal is positive of him as he was a good lawyer who had many friends who had support for him however Philadelphia shows a weak side of him in contrast to this and whilst watching the film and hoping for his victory in the case the thought of his inevitable death which is looming is a thought which remains with us throughout the film. Overall Philadelphia is very influential in showing the reality of the impact AIDS had in America and how society viewed its members who were impacted by it.