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Law and Popular Culture

A Course Book (2nd Edition)


Michael Asimow and Shannon Mader

Both law and popular culture pervade our lives. Popular culture constructs our perceptions of law and changes the way that players in the legal system behave. Now in its second edition, Law and Popular Culture: A Course Book explores the interface between two subjects of enormous importance to everyone – law and popular culture.
Each chapter takes a particular legally themed film or television show, such as Philadelphia, Dead Man Walking, or Law and Order, treating it as both a cultural text and a legal text.
The new edition has been updated with new photos and includes greater emphasis on television than in the first edition because there are so many DVDs of older TV shows now available.
Law and Popular Culture is written in an accessible and engaging style, without theoretical jargon, and can serve as a basic text for undergraduates or graduate courses and be taught by anyone who enjoys pop culture and is interested in law. An instructor’s manual is available on request from the publisher and author.
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13. Civil Rights: Assigned Film: Philadelphia (1993)


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Civil Rights

Assigned Film: Philadelphia (1993)1

13.01 Philadelphia—The cases and the film

13.01.1 The real-life inspiration of Philadelphia

The film was based primarily on the case of a New York City lawyer named Geoffrey Bowers who was fired by the mega-law firm of Baker & McKenzie. Seven years after his death from AIDS at the age of 33, Bowers’ family won a $500,000 award from the New York State Department of Human Relations. Baker & McKenzie appealed the decision, but the dispute was settled in 1995 for an undisclosed sum.

Meanwhile, Bowers’ relatives sued Tri-Star, claiming that the filmmakers had promised to compensate the family members for providing details of Bowers’ life. Tri-Star contended that the film was based on several cases, including Bowers, and that the details had come from sources in the public domain. Producer Scott Rudin supported the Bowers family. Rudin had interviewed the Bowers family members in 1988 and later sold the project to Mark Platt at Orion. In 1996, five days into the trial, Tri-Star settled the case for a figure in the “mid-7 figure range” and acknowledged that the film was inspired in part by Bowers’ life. ← 271 | 272 →

Cain v. Hyatt. The film was also based on a second case that was decided by the federal district court in Philadelphia: Cain v. Hyatt (1990). The case concerned a provision in...

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