Brandon Goes to Hollywood (1): Boys Don't Cry and the Transgender Body in Film. - Film Criticism

Brandon Goes to Hollywood (1): Boys Don't Cry and the Transgender Body in Film.

By Film Criticism

  • Release Date: 2003-12-22
  • Genre: Performing Arts


Widely publicized and distributed, Kimberley Pierce's Boys Don't Cry proved a box-office hit and won a number of awards, including the Best Actress Oscar for Hilary Swank for her portrayal of Brandon Teena. The film brought mainstream media attention to the life and tragic death of Brandon Teena in addition to precipitating extensive academic debate. (2) For the first time, audiences were introduced to a transgender character that was not demonized as either killer, sexual predator, or deranged psychopath. This is no small matter. Within contemporary American culture and film Brandon Teena (3) has the potential to operate as a force of interruption and disruption, putting into "queatio' identities previously conceived as stable, unchallengeable, grounded, and 'known'" (Garber 13). The fascination with the life and murder of Brandon Teena and the recent release of the film Boys Don't Cry suggest a moment when a critical, potentially transgressive space might open up within mainstream culture. Cinematic representations of transgender characters have been notorious for their portrayals of the transgendered as psychotic serial killers or as figures of fun and comic relief. Prior to Boys Don't Cry, films that included a transgender character invariably represented that character as abnormal and disturbed, hence dangerous and othered. (4) The Silence of the Lambs is an excellent example of the way in which the trans figure is othered and the heteronormative gender and sexual order reinforced and stabilized. In this film, the self-castrated killer murders and skins young women in order to stitch together a female body suit. The motive of the killer is portrayed as stemming from the desire to possess and to become the unattainable, a biological woman. His anger stems from the "illusion" that, born in the wrong body, he is literally cheated out of what is rightfully his.