February 27, 2015

Lawyers, Power, and Identity in "Philadelphia"

Richard M. Cornes, University of Essex School of Law, has published Philadelphia – Self, Power and Hollywood's Safe Money Agenda. Here is the abstract.

Philadelphia, a film about a man fired because of fear of AIDS (and behind that, fear of homosexuality) was released in 1993. It was one of the first Hollywood movies to address HIV and homophobia. Hollywood congratulated itself on its bravery, awarding Tom Hanks and Bruce Springsteen Oscars (for best lead actor and best movie song respectively).

Twenty-two years later, homophobia is alive and well. In England, in the first week of January 2015, two straight BBC male radio presenters went for a walk on the streets of Luton hand in hand, recording the adverse reactions they encountered on film (available online. I mention this to guard against the rosy nostalgia which might otherwise arise from the passage of time between 1993 and today. Certainly we now have marriage equality in a number of countries, including England, Wales and Scotland, and 36 US states, but two men holding hands on a British street still attracts sniggers, stares, and insults. The impulse to discriminate on the basis of perceived sexual orientation that Andrew Becket – the film’s lead – challenges in 1993 is still very much with us.

This essay considers the film from the perspective of a module on management and organization studies, drawing on Bell’s (2008) work on understanding management and organizations through film. I am not the first to study Philadelphia from this perspective: see Holliday, 1998; and from the perspective of a legal scholar, Asimov, 2001. I bring three strands of analysis. The first is concerned with motivation and the self – what does it mean to be a “lawyer”? The second is concerned with issues of power relating to sexuality, in the legal work place, and Hollywood. The third looks directly at Hollywood and its treatment of inter alios, gay men.

Download the paper from SSRN at the link.

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