Few pastimes are perhaps more uniquely American than going to the movies. Though movie prices continue to increase from their already elevated prices, feature films are fairly accessible for most Americans; they reach a diverse and widespread audience, whether viewed in the theater, at home, or, in today’s technology-driven, ask-and-you-shall-receive society, through instant online streaming via iTunes or Netflix.
Inarguably, blockbuster films often serve as powerful theatric representations of both contemporary and historical social problems and injustices. Through fictional yet theatrical and artistically visual means, popular films have captured the imaginations of millions of Americans, establishing a platform upon which conversations about political and social issues—both in the media and amongst citizens—can and have taken root. Don Cheadle’s 2004 performance in Hotel Rwanda, Sean Penn’s portrayal of gay rights activist Harvey Milk in 2008’s Milk, and 1994’s Philadelphia, which tells the story of Andrew Beckett (played by Tom Hanks), an HIV-positive attorney who is fired on the basis of his medical condition, are all movies that have sparked politically charged conversations about race, sexuality, inequality, and civil rights in the United States.