Monday, April 15, 2024

Take another look at Tom Hanks’ speech at the Oscars that Spielberg praised as ‘amazing’

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Thirty years back, Tom Hanks gave a powerful speech that left a mark on Hollywood. Surprisingly, it wasn’t in a film.

On March 21, 1994, at the 66th Academy Awards, Hanks won the Best Actor award for his role in “Philadelphia,” a movie about a gay lawyer battling AIDS. His speech during the ceremony became unforgettable and emotionally stirring.

As we approach the 96th Academy Awards this Sunday, let’s revisit Hanks’ remarkable speech from 30 years ago.

The speech began conventionally, with Hanks expressing gratitude to his wife, Rita Wilson, and everyone involved in the film, including co-stars Antonio Banderas and Denzel Washington. Then, it took a personal turn. Hanks mentioned his high school drama teacher, Rawley Farnsworth, and a classmate, John Gilkerson, both of whom were gay men who inspired him during his youth.

Hanks spoke about the impact of AIDS, which was the leading cause of death for Americans aged 25-44 by 1994. He referenced Gilkerson, who died of AIDS in 1989. Despite the disease’s devastating toll, it was heavily stigmatized at the time, and “Philadelphia” was one of the first mainstream films to directly address HIV/AIDS.

Steven Spielberg, who won Best Director and Best Picture for “Schindler’s List” that night, praised Hanks’ speech for effectively conveying the film’s message to a wider audience.

Before winning the award, Hanks sought permission from his former drama teacher, Farnsworth, to mention him in the speech. Farnsworth, then 69 years old, gladly agreed when Hanks called him three days before the Oscars.

In retrospect, Hanks acknowledged criticism of “Philadelphia” for casting a straight actor in the role of a gay man. He admitted that such casting wouldn’t be accepted today, recognizing the importance of authenticity in representation.

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