December 23

This Day in History

Hollywood

Dec 23, 1993:

Hanks stars in first major Hollywood movie about AIDS

On this day in 1993, Philadelphia, starring the actor Tom Hanks in the first major Hollywood movie to focus on the subject of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), opens in theaters. In the film, Hanks played Andrew Beckett, a gay attorney who is unjustly fired from his job because he suffers from AIDS. Denzel Washington co-starred as Joe Miller, a homophobic personal-injury lawyer who takes on Beckett’s case and comes to terms with his own misconceptions about gay people and the disease.

Directed by Jonathan Demme (Something Wild, The Silence of the Lambs) and featuring Antonio Banderas as Beckett’s boyfriend, Jason Robards as his boss and Joanne Woodward as his mother, Philadelphia was nominated for five Academy Awards and collected Oscars for Best Actor (Hanks) and Best Original Song (Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia”). During his Academy Award acceptance speech, Hanks thanked his high school drama teacher and a fellow classmate, calling them, “two of the finest gay Americans, two wonderful men that I had the good fortune to be associated with, to fall under their inspiration at such a young age.” Prior to Philadelphia, only a handful of smaller films, such as 1986’s Parting Glances and 1990’s Longtime Companion, had dealt with AIDS, which emerged as an epidemic in the early 1980s and was initially heavily stigmatized because it was perceived as a disease of gay people and drug users.

Before making Philadelphia, Hanks, who was born on July 9, 1956, in Concord, California, co-starred in the 1980s TV sitcom Bosom Buddies and rose to fame on the big screen with roles in Splash! (1984) and Big (1988), for which he received his first Best Actor Oscar nomination. Hanks followed his Best Actor win for Philadelphia with a second Best Actor Oscar for his performance in 1994’s Forrest Gump, in which he played a good-hearted man with a low I.Q. who winds up at the center of key cultural and historical events during the second half of the 20th century. With Forrest Gump, Hanks became only the second man, after Spencer Tracy, to win back-to-back Best Actor Oscars.

Hanks was also nominated for Academy Awards in the Best Actor category for his performances in director Steven Spielberg’s World War II drama Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Cast Away (2000), in which he starred as a man stranded on a deserted island. Among Hanks’ other movie credits are Sleepless in Seattle (1993), a romantic comedy co-starring Meg Ryan that was a huge box-office success; director Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 (1995), based on the true story of the ill-fated 1970 moon mission; You’ve Got Mail (1998), another popular romantic comedy co-starring Meg Ryan; The Green Mile (1999); Catch Me if You Can (2002); The Da Vinci Code (2006) and Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), with Julia Roberts.

Hanks, who has been married to the actress Rita Wilson since 1988, made his feature-film directorial debut with 1996’s That Thing You Do!, which he also wrote and starred in. He also co-executive produced (with Spielberg) and directed one episode of the acclaimed 2001 HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, also set during World War II.

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