HOMENews&Data > Resources > Human Rights Films/Video
Boys Don't Cry (1999)
Directed by Kimberly Peirce/ Starrying Hilary Swank, Chole Sevigny and more
“Boys Don’t Cry’ is based on a true story of 1993 Brandon Teena’s murder in Nebraska. Hilary Swank plays the protagonist, an American trans man, and a symbolic prey of brutal hate crime against LGBT in U.S.A.
The movie starts with the scene where a girl named Teena Renae Brandon shaves her hair off, part for fun and part for avoiding theft accusation. After abandoning her hometown for a nearby village to avoid police, she adopts a fake identity, only to realize her true sexual nature. She changes her name into Brandon Teena, becomes romantically involved with Lana Tisdel and stays at her place together.
Later on Brandon is detained by the police for speed driving, and it is soon revealed that he is physically a woman, but this does not stop Lana from loving him. However, Lana’s secret admirer John openly displays hatred for transgenders, and one day forcefully undresses Brandon in front of Lana’s family and friends. Contrary to his plan, Lana stands by Brandon despite the malice and violence, which angers John and his friends even more. In the end they rape and kill Brandon in front of Lana.
This movie was lauded for its cinematic quality, role of social criticism and actors’ performance. Hilary Swank was awarded the Academy Award for Best Actress and Chloe Sevigny, Lana Tisdel, was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. They were also nominated at the 57th Golden Globe Awards, and received awards from New York Critics Circle and many more. However, criticism over the movie is also marked sharply.
The biggest problem is the factual inaccuracy for dramatic and entertaining plot line. Brandon Teena was raised in a single-mom family due to his father’s sudden death, was a victim of rape, and despite school life problems, was never a delinquent child as the movie portrayed. Rather, she was raised with a strict mother and went to a Christian school. Additionally, his sexual identity was clear from early childhood; binding his growing breasts and having girlfriends. Lana Tisdel was one of his many partners and their actual relation was short lived. Above all, the movie hints that Tisdel was an activist for LGBT and fought for her love. But in real life, Tisdel insists she was tricked into believing that Brandon was a man suffering gynandroid and not ready to have intercourse. Before the movie’s theatrical release, Lana Tisdel sued the producers as she was not a lesbian and broke up after she discovered he was transgender.
The movie also fails to properly highlight the brutal treatment of police towards Brandon Teena. To the police, the fact that he as transgender was more interesting than the rape report Brandon filed after John and his friends first raped him. After series of personal and disturbing questions, Brandon refused to answer and the investigation was aborted. Were it otherwise, brutal hate crime killings could have been stopped (In real life, John and his friend murdered 3 people, including Lana’s sister Leslie Tisdel’s boyfriend).
Despite some negative feedback, this movie is one of very few films actually facing the reality of the LGBT two decades ago. Moreover, it is significant that the movie pays tribute to Brandon Teena by referring as a ‘he’ in the ending narration, while he was always referred to as a ‘lesbian’ or a ‘lunatic’ who never underwent a surgery. The movie in its own way ended his pain as a sexual minority.
Brandon Teena is still remembered as her ‘little girl’ by his mother, and his gravestone shows “daughter, sister&friend”. Had he survived he would be a middle-aged 40 something, and recognized as a man after a transsexual operation, we never know. LGBT is an issue we all need to think about. Whatever your opinion may be on the issue, it does not change the fact that their pain needs to be understood and they also deserve equal rights. The movie clearly shows it.