Retro Action, December 23, 1993: AIDS Gets the Hollywood Treatment

Originally from Baltimore, Oliver lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn.
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Oscar winner Hanks arrives on the red carpet with his wife, Rita Wilson. Note the red ribbon. (Photo: Reuters/Fred Prouser) 

By the early '90s, Hollywood was finally ready to tackle its first big budget film depicting AIDS. The only problem was, who would star in it?

Tom Hanks, of course. Although the likable A-lister seems the obvious choice now, back in 1993, the boyish actor was better known for his lighthearted leads in Big and romantic comedies like Sleepless in Seattle

But all that changed with his depiction of Andrew Beckett in Philadelphia.

Playing a homosexual lawyer who is unfairly dismissed from his law firm when his disease is discovered, Hanks was applauded for his stark portrayal of a dying man and credited with starting the trend of showing the gay community in a more realistic light.

The film itself was inspired by the true story of Geoffrey Bowers, who, in 1987, sued his law firm Baker & McKenzie for unfair dismissal in one of the first AIDS cases to receive a public hearing. 

Although Bowers and his partner both passed away from the disease before a verdict was reached—it took six long years—he was posthumously awarded a settlement of $500,000, which was a record at the time.

Hanks went on to win his first Best Actor Oscar for the role. He followed it up with another the very next year for Forrest Gump, becoming the first man to win in consecutive years since Spencer Tracy. 


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