The central ethical dilemma of the 1993 Jonathan Demme film Philadelphia is whether or not a man who is fully competent at performing his job can be fired simply because he possesses a disorder or exhibits a lifestyle against which the company's owner possesses a prejudice. According to statutes like the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is illegal for an employer to fire a man because of a terminal illness such as cancer or AIDS, provided that the illness does not impede that man's performance. But often the law and morality are not one and the same. Do they coincide on this issue?
Andy Becket is an extremely skilled and competent lawyer working for the firm of Charles Wheeler. He has defended numerous clients with great success and renown. He has also earned a friendship with the firm's management, including Wheeler himself. However, he had accomplished this by means of evading mention of the fact of his homosexuality, a lifestyle against which Wheeler holds a prejudice.
When Andy receives AIDS as a result of an act of recklessness on his part, he attempts to conceal the illness, but to no avail. The lesions are visible to those who can recognize them, and the Wheeler firm stages the loss of a letter in a crucial case. Since Andy had furnished the letter in the first place, the loss is blamed on him, and he is fired. The attitude of Wheeler and his partners toward Andy changes noticeably and, despite their past confidence in him, they now accuse him of incompetence. Andy seeks help from the attorney Miller, who himself exhibits a strong dislike toward homosexuals.
After initially declining Andy's offer, Miller discovers that the discrimination Andy had faced is illegal, and that he would be able to prove it. Miller gradually acquaints himself with Andy on a personal level and realizes that he is not the pervert that the dominant culture portrays all homosexuals to be. Andy is an admirer of opera, a man devoted to his family, an avid reader, and one who...