Philadelphia came out in 1993, the same year I was diagnosed with HIV. I remember it got generally good reviews - Tom Hanks got an Oscar for his performance in it, in fact. Gay activists, however, missed the boat and mostly disliked it, if I recall, because the on-screen relationship between Tom Hanks and his lover, played by Antonio Banderas, didn't seem authentic. They didn't kiss. Big fucking deal.
I often mention the movie when I do public speaking engagements, and recommend audiences see it. But I warn them: take along a box of Kleenex for few movies will make you cry as much as Philadelphia does.
But if the movie's a good one, and generally considered a milestone in Hollywood's treatment not only of AIDS but of gays in general, why did it change my life like no other?
Simply put, I identified with Tom Hanks
At the time I first saw it, I was in the closet - both about having the disease (like Tom Hanks) and also about my sexual orientation, at least at work (like Tom Hanks). Unlike Tom Hanks, I didn't work at a law firm, but at a bank, but there are similarities in the culture of the two. Anyway, seeing the machinations Tom Hanks went through to hide his condition struck uncomfortably close to home. So I decided on the spot that I didn’t want to go there. That level of deception, all of a sudden, sounded unacceptable.
So.....not long after seeing the movie I came clean with my employer. It went better than I had thought it would, and in truth I rather liked my first little foray into activism. The rest is history.
Two clips from the movie; first the trailer which is a little too Hollywood and doesn't really convey the movie’s uniquely sensitive exploration of living with AIDS. And then a second clip which does. This is the ending of the movie; Tom has died and there is a celebration of his life going on (notice btw the inclusion of real life people with AIDS in this scene.) Anyway, it's a harrowing but at the same time uplifting film to watch, so by the end – and I've seen this one a few times now - I'm usually starting on my second box of Kleenex.
In fact I had a little cry while posting this.
So that's my life-changing moment on the HIV journey. What's yours?