The film Boys Don’t Cry (1999), directed by Kimberly Peirce, depicts the story of Nebraska trans man, Brandon Teena, trying to understand his identity in the early 90s. Brandon’s story is not a happy one his life was cut way too short when he was murdered by two individuals who had no understanding of identities other than their own.
Brandon Teena’s story is one that needs to be told because it brings visibility to the trans community and it is important for Nebraskans to know what is happening in their communities, however, I’m not really sure Boys Don’t Cry got the job done. There were a few things that were good about this movie and Hillary Swank is an amazing actress (she plays Teena), but there was also a lot of aspects of this film that I found to be extremely problematic.
To give a little background on the film, Brandon Teena is a trans man that thinks he’s in a “sexual identity crisis” because trans language was something unknown to him. He was hiding from the law because he had gotten caught with auto theft. He couch surfs and the movie alludes to him not having good ties with his family and his mother having institutionalized him earlier in his life. His drunken nights land him in a bar where he meets a group of rambunctious individuals and then he sees her. Lana Tisdel (played by Chloe Sevigny), the woman who would steal Brandon’s heart. All is going well until his secret slowly starts to come out by one of the friends he was staying with. Lana’s mother and her two guy friends are completely shook by the news because they had no exposure to trans identities and one of the guys, John Lotter, is in love with Lana and can’t handle not having her. The two men then rape Brandon and horribly beat him. Brandon keeps going though and he and Lana decide to run away together but before Brandon leaves town, John Lotter gets to him and shots him. The film ends with Lana laying with Brandon’s body all night.
Now, this is a very short review of the movie and it doesn’t even remotely get into the nitty gritty of the film. If this was just a made up story, maybe I would have viewed the film differently, but since it’s supposed to be showing the last moments of Brandon Teena’s life, I feel like this movie should have made some major improvements. I was verry emotionally connected to this film and I thougtht he acting was great. I also think that for a movie made in the late 90s, it help opened the door to other trans films and gave some viewers their first exposer to trans identities and different sexualities. Cooper (2002), stated “Boys Don’t Cry not only privileges gender diversity, but also exposes the inherent sexual bigotry of heteroideology and the brutal and deadly consequences of society’s failure to eradicate such prejudice,” (p. 44). This statement is extremely bold and does not beat around the bush. I agree in that this movie did a really good job of showing what can happen when people fear what they don’t understand. Brandon was viciously murdered because his murders couldn’t fathom the fact that he was different and they couldn’t bear him “tainting” their friend with his “sickness.”
Halberstam (2005) also brings up the point that the film does a good job of putting the viewer in Brandon’s point of view, “Boys Don’t Cry estabilishes the ligitimacy and the durability of Brandon’s gender no simply by telling the tragic tale of his death by murder, but by forcing spectators to adopt, if only provisionally, Brandon’s gaze, a transgender look” (p. 87). This is a good point to bring up and director, Peirce, does this well for most of the film until the ending. Their is a scene at the end of the film where Lana and Brandon are laying in a barn after Brandons rape were Lana changes her language and is talking to her as if Brandon was a woman. This changes the gaze of the viewers which leads them to see Brandon as a female lesbian which is not who Brandon was (p. 89). This is extremely problematic because this change of view discredits Brandon’s indentity and gender which leads me to my next point. Since Brandon is now just seen as a mascline female, it is important to bring up the societal views of female masculinity. Halberstam (1998) stated “female masculinities are framed as the rejected scraps of dominant masculinity in order that male masculinity may appear to be the real thing” (p.1). Brandon’s murders couldn’t handle his masculinity and murdered him to prove their “true” male dominance. Societal views on female masculinity, male masculinity, and trans identities have been so skewed for years and in 2017, this identities are finally being given the visability they deserve but there is still a very, very long way to go.
One final thing that I hated about the film was the fact that it was white washed. The real story of the murder included the murder of a African American man (Halberstam, 2005, p. 91). The fact that Peirce completely left an entire person out of the film is, quite frankly, sickening. How is this tragic story being honored when the accurate story is not being told?
Get it together, Peirce.
Cooper, B. 2002. Boys don’t cry and female masculinity: reclaiming a life and dismantling the politics of normative heterosexuality. Print. p. 44-63. National Communication Association: Critical Studies in Media Communication.
Halberstam, J. 1998. Female masculinity: An introduction to female masculinity. Print. p. 1-22. Duke University Press.
Halberstam, J. 2005. In a queer time and place: Transgender bodies, subcultural lives. Print. p. 76-97. New York University Press.
Peirce, K. (Director). 1999. Boys Don’t Cry. United States: Fox Searchlight Pictures.