By: Diana Nguyen, STAR Resource Advocate
Disclaimer: Since this movie is based on the true story of Brandon Teena, I am aware that the producers and screen writers have taken creative liberty and there have been changes made to the movie that did not accurately depict what happened in real life. I will be writing the review based strictly off the movie and not the true story.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
The film takes place in Lincoln, Nebraska following the lead character, Brandon Teena, a transman. During the course of the film, Brandon befriends John Lotter, Tom Nissen, Candace and Lana Tisdel. He finds himself falling in love with Lana and becomes romantically involved with her.
Brandon and Lana’s love was short lived due to the heinous crimes of Tom and John ending with the tragic death of not only Brandon but Lana’s sister Candace. Tom and John exhibit signs of sexism, shown by the way they talk to the women who surround them and how they treat them. John consistently grabs Lana in a rough and abusive manner. The beating and rape of Brandon Teena by Tom and John hits the nerve center on the idea that rape is about having control and power over someone. They fear what they don’t understand and take out their rage and transphobia by calling Brandon slurs and referring to him as “it” instead of a human pronoun. Tom and John rape him not out of lust or attraction but out of spite, almost as if to say “you’re a woman, not a man. Know your place.” They used fear tactics to keep Brandon silent about the rape, then proceeded to act kindly to him, calling him buddy and asking him if he was okay, even taking him to their place to shower and get cleaned up. They threatened Brandon, saying that if he tells anyone they would “silence him for good.”
Later in the film, there is a scene where law enforcement questions Brandon about the assault. During this interaction, victim blaming is prevalent. This demonstrates a common experience of survivors when reporting to law enforcement and sheds light on the ways trans survivors can be treated when engaging with the criminal justice process. The officer asks why Brandon ran around with guys being a girl and why he goes around kissing every girl, completely disregarding Bandon’s male identity and insinuating that it was his fault he got raped by them.
On the other hand, Lana provides a source of comfort, acceptance, and love that people should have for one another. When the truth about Brandon is revealed, Lana declares that it doesn’t matter and she loves him regardless of his gender. She loved Brandon for who he was regardless of what gender he identified as, or his criminal past.
According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) acts of hate violence are often intended to send a message to LGBTQ communities. Statistics show that 1 in 2 trans people reported being sexually assaulted in their life. In the NCAVP 2009 report on hate violence, 50 percent of people who died in violent hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people were trans women; the other half were male, many of whom were gender non-conforming. Boys Don’t Cry brought these instances of hate crimes against the transgender community to the masses.
Boys Don’t Cry was a fascinating yet deeply disturbing film that highlights deep societal issues that transgender people face in our society. Even though the film took place in the 1990’s, it’s still quite relevant today. Films such as Boy Don’t Cry are needed to show the us the heaviness of what hate can do. It compels us to face our own society and reevaluate the systems that allow for acts such as what happened to Brandon Teena to exist. As hate crimes and rape continue to plague our society, films like this are necessary to forces us to walk in another person’s shoes, taking in their experience with empathy and compassion.
Here are some resources for those in the LGBTQ+ communities in Louisiana:
Louisiana Trans Advocates: We’re advancing the core human rights of self-determination and expression for all trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people in Louisiana.
The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25.
Office for Victims of Crime (OVC). “The Numbers.” Sexual Assault: The Numbers | Responding to Transgender Victims of Sexual Assault, June 2014, http://www.ovc.gov/pubs/forge/sexual_numbers.html.