If you asked me what the hardest film I find to watch is… there would be one immediate answer.
Boy’s Don’t Cry
The true story of Brandon Teena (played by Hilary Swank) who meets a horrible end due to the fact that he was transgender – actually, due to the fact that people could not understand or accept that he was a man. The narrative itself is almost impossible to digest, you have to fight through it, especially towards the end. Now, this could have been a review of the film but strangley enough it’s not the film that I have the problem with.
I thought the film was very good, it’s one of the very few films that covers the topic of transmasculinity (most cover transgender women). It had a great actor at the healm, and a director (Kimberly Peirce) that won a dozen awards for her film (although most credited to Swank’s performance). However, despite the film representing the life of a transgender man in a positive way (in the sense that the audience are positioned to understand him and sympathise with his situation) outside of the film I felt that this understanding fades, especially on Peirce’s part.
The interview I watched: Interview with Kimberly Pierce and Hilary Swank
Throughout this interview Pierce constantly refers to Brandon with female pronouns and when asked what it was about his kind of story that drew her in she replies, “On the deepest level, I was a tomboy as a kid (…) somebody says start acting like a girl, and you just say, what’s that?” I have a great respect for any person, especially in the public eye, resists norms; whether it be gender, race, class etc. There just seems to be such a lack of understanding running throughout this interview (it is just this interview that I am addressing) from a director who put together a film that I connected with passionately as a guy who was born with the wrong set of instruments. A tomboy (according to the dictionary) is a girl who enjoys rough, noisy activities traditionally associated with boys – not a boy who was born in a female body and has to deal with this fact probably for his entire life. I felt disappointed, upset even, that Pierce’s production made me feel understood – that the judgement of transgender people is wrong, and what happened to Brandon Teena was a tragedy, and yet her point of view, or at least the way she articulated herself in this interview made me feel rejected, especially on behalf of Brandon.
To make matters worse, on reading about the true case of Brandon Teena and skimming over the public case films I came across the words…
“Teena is buried in Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Lincoln, Nebraska, his headstone inscribed with his birth name and the epitaph daughter, sister, & friend”
Brandon stood for who he truly was and what he believed, and despite losing everything because of it, even in his death he could not be acknowledged as the person he was.