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When Tom Hanks' Oscar acceptance speech impressed Spielberg so much that he called it 'incredible'

The iconic speech was heard for the first time when Tom Hanks won the 'Best Actor' award for his role in the movie, 'Philadelphia,' at Oscars 1994.

When Tom Hanks' Oscar acceptance speech impressed Spielberg so much that he called it 'incredible'
Cover Image Source: Tom Hanks attends the 92nd Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on February 09, 2020, in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images)

It takes courage to talk about a cause on the international stage and that's what Tom Hanks did thirty years ago. On March 21, 1994, Hanks won the 'Best Actor' award for his performance in the movie, "Philadelphia," at the 66th Academy Awards. The film revolves around a gay lawyer slowly dying of AIDS. Hanks' powerful acceptance speech became a memorable moment in history and it impressed legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg so much that he described it as "incredible," according to CNN

Image Source: The 66th Annual Academy Awards - Elton John AIDS Foundation After Party - Getty Images | Kevin Mazur
Image Source: The 66th Annual Academy Awards - Elton John AIDS Foundation After Party (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images) 

Hanks began his speech by thanking his wife Rita Wilson and then the "union of filmmakers" like Ed Saxon, Ron Nyswaner and Jonathan Demme. He went on to thank his co-stars, including Antonio Banderas and Denzel Washington. Hanks then spoke about two people who created a huge impact on his life. "I wouldn't be standing here if it weren't for two very important men in my life. Two I haven't spoken with in a while: Mr.Rawley Farnsworth was my high-school drama teacher who taught me to 'act well the part, there all the glory lies' and my classmate under Mr.Rawley Farnsworth, Mr.John Gilkerson. I mention their names because they are two of the finest gay Americans, two wonderful men that I had the good fortune to associate with, to fall under their inspiration at such a young age that my babies have the same sort of teacher, the same sort of friends," said Hanks in his speech. 

He continued, “And there lies my dilemma here tonight...I know that my work in this case is magnified by the fact that the streets of heaven are too crowded with angels. We know their names. They number a thousand for each one of the red ribbons that we wear here tonight. They finally rest in the warm embrace of the gracious creator of us all."

"A healing embrace that cools their fevers clears their skin, and allows their eyes to see the simple, self-evident, common sense truth that is made manifest by the benevolent creator of us all and was written down on paper by wise men, tolerant men, in the city of Philadelphia 200 years ago,” said the actor referring to the declaration of independence, which states all men are created equal. “God bless you all. God have mercy on us all. And God bless America," he concluded. 


Hanks was mainly talking about people who lost their lives due to AIDS. By 1994, AIDS had become the leading cause of death for Americans who were between the age of 25-44. The classmate he mentioned in his speech, who was an actor and puppeteer, had also died of AIDS in 1989. Reportedly, Philadephia was one of the first movies to address HIV/AIDS at that time as it was heavily stigmatized.

Steven Spielberg, who was also in the audience and won 'Best Picture' and 'Best Director' for his film "Schindler's List," told The New York Times that “the speech was incredible and in a sense, communicated more about what ‘Philadelphia’ was saying — and reached more people — than the movie itself will.” Ron Nyswaner, who was also in the audience at the awards, had similar views. "His speech was so beautiful, articulate, and moving and as it unspooled, people were gasping. We were all being lifted to our feet by the power of his delivery,” he said. 


Three days before the Oscars, Hanks had called his school drama teacher Farnsworth and took permission to mention his name in the speech. Farnsworth told PEOPLE in 1994, “'I don’t know if you’ll remember me,' the caller had said, 'but I’m an old student of yours. I’ve got a ticket to the Academy Awards and if I win, I would like to use your name in regard to the content of ‘Philadelphia'.’” The teacher had told Hanks that he'd be "thrilled" to be a part of his speech.

However, Hanks doesn't think a straight man could play the same role in a film like "Philadelphia" today. Hanks said in an interview with The New York Times, “The whole point of Philadelphia was don’t be afraid. One of the reasons people weren’t afraid of that movie is that I was playing a gay man," he said. “We’re beyond that now, and I don’t think people would accept the inauthenticity of a straight guy playing a gay guy,” he added. “It’s not a crime, it’s not boohoo, that someone would say we are going to demand more of a movie in the modern realm of authenticity.” 


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