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November 14, 2006

Boy's Don't Cry - xtra links

This post has generated a lot of amazing discussion. This film would make a great topic for your final essay.

Want to let you know that The Brandon Teena story IS a documentary. An award-winning documentary.

(If you clicked the link +underlined text+ in the assignment post, you would have known!) For anyone interested in viewing, It is available on Netflix and for rental at videostores like Blockbuster.

Here's the doc's homepage - Zeitgeist Films

Read the doc's press kit - download here

some relevant NY Times articles:

Review

REVISIONS; When Art Digests Life and Disgorges Its Poison

FILM REVIEW; A Rape and Beating, Later 3 Murders And Then the Twist

& some other interesting Links from M.L.:
http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/not_guilty/brandon/1.html

Curiously while searching for old issues, online about Brandon Teena, I found this case about Gwen Araujo. Lifetime made a movie about her story. But the article is titled: Echoes of Brandon Teena http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1589/is_2002_Nov_26/ai_95263233

This one is from the court tv site, called crime library. A little splashy but the author does an interesting job fleshing out story from the limited sources she had.
http://www.crimelibrary.com/notorious_murders/not_guilty/brandon/1.html

here's a reprint of names and deaths that was from OUT Magazine
http://www.godhatesfredphelps.com/hatecrimes.html

You can also do a library search and find some great articles in the advocate, newspapers and lots of periodicals.

November 13, 2006

The body and gender performativity

What does the film say about the body - gender performativity, binding, "passing", masculinity/femininity/androgyny, sexual ambiguity, identity transformation, violence, and intolerance... Does the film reinforce or complicate gender binaries?

I think the film illustrates gender binaries through the characters, but they are all complicated by the presence of Brandon. Especially because it is set in a small town gender stereotypes and expectations are very strict. Brandon is aware of this and to prove to himself and others he acts especially masculine. He smokes and drinks in excess, he fights in bars and does other dangerous things to seem tough and manly. Brandon's performance of gender is very important to him and his successful passing as a man. However, the other characters also perform gender to the extreme especially the other men who later rape Brandon. They rape him because they are proving their masculinity and are punishing him for threatening their maleness. The part of the film that most complicates gender is when Lana finds out that Brandon is a girl and loves her anyhow and even is still sexually attracted to him. The fact that gender doesn't matter to her and that she is attracted to Brandon as a person, not a man is important for breaking down binaries and heteronormative attitudes.

on responsibility

Responsible-- yes, she is most assuredly responsible. The fact that it is her story implies nothing less; without her action this film would not have come into discussion. Without the doings of Kimberly Pierce, Boys Don’t Cry, and the illusions it made would have remained another hateful news story. This film, however, is art. It leaves an imprint, and stirs up the mix a bit.
To react I wrote a poem. The words are not my own, But the story they tell is, it’s my art.

‘never a truestory anyway’

-for mark nowak


involvement in artforms.
changes the shape of perception,

working from true stories,
you just know it.

is this how you would have said it?
feeling on fire and uncomfortable

in their own skin.
each time layering down another layer.

without actually knowing the route
you are going to take,

subliminal-- what the
story::: on a literal level.


When the credits roll Kimberly Pierce is the creator here. Where she received her inspiration is very relevant, and worth investigation, but in the end her name’s on the box-- it’s her art. She will do with it what she will, without responsibility to anyone under its base.

Boys Don't Cry

What do you think about Pierce's directorial choices like casting "unknown" Swank instead of "big name" actor? What do you think about Swank's portrayal?

Since this movie, Hilary Swank has become a much more well known actress than she was before. When this film was made, she wasn't a big star and hadn't played any roles that were permanently pinned to her. Because of this, Pierce's choice to cast her as Brandon Teena, instead of a big name, was a good one. Swank, unlike many well known actors, had not portrayed a character that shaped her image in the public eye. For example, when Anthony Hopkins played Hannibal in "Silence of the Lambs", it created an image for him as an actor that sticks in the audiences minds. He is now forever known for this role because of it's strength and impact. Hilary, at the time, had not starred in a role that gave her this type of image. She had a clean slate, that viewers would be unbiased about. She was a fresh face and was able to completely fill the shoes of the role of Brandon.
Swank's portrayal of Brandon in "Boys Don't Cry" was impressive to many. Even though winning the Academy Award for best actress for her performance in this movie proved that she surpassed expectations in playing Brandon; she didn't need it. It was clear to me through viewing the film that she took this role very seriously. She paid attention to details such as facial expressions, body language, and much more to play the part as accurately as she could. Her performance allows the audience to focus on the actual story, the documentary part of the Brandon Teena story, and not on her as an actress or the fact that she is a woman playing a transgender role. Hilary Swank did an amazing job of bringing the story to life, and Kimberly Pierce was smart to cast her.

Boys Don't Cry

What do you think about Pierce's directorial choices like casting "unknown" Swank instead of "big name" actor? What do you think about Swank's portrayal?

Since this movie, Hilary Swank has become a much more well known actress than she was before. When this film was made, she wasn't a big star and hadn't played any roles that were permanently pinned to her. Because of this, Pierce's choice to cast her as Brandon Teena, instead of a big name, was a good one. Swank, unlike many well known actors, had not portrayed a character that shaped her image in the public eye. For example, when Anthony Hopkins played Hannibal in "Silence of the Lambs", it created an image for him as an actor that sticks in the audiences minds. He is now forever known for this role because of it's strength and impact. Hilary, at the time, had not starred in a role that gave her this type of image. She had a clean slate, that viewers would be unbiased about. She was a fresh face and was able to completely fill the shoes of the role of Brandon.
Swank's portrayal of Brandon in "Boys Don't Cry" was impressive to many. Even though winning the Academy Award for best actress for her performance in this movie proved that she surpassed expectations in playing Brandon; she didn't need it. It was clear to me through viewing the film that she took this role very seriously. She paid attention to details such as facial expressions, body language, and much more to play the part as accurately as she could. Her performance allows the audience to focus on the actual story, the documentary part of the Brandon Teena story, and not on her as an actress or the fact that she is a woman playing a transgender role. Hilary Swank did an amazing job of bringing the story to life, and Kimberly Pierce was smart to cast her.

Boys Don't Cry

I think that this story tells a lot about "small town" america, american values and american life. This film shows how ignorant, uneducated, and evil people are. It shows how hostile people are toward those that are different from them. It shows that in america, there is a structured and uniform image that people have to possess, those that do not conform to it are outcasts from society. This movie goes back to what Judith Butler calls gender performativity, and in america, those who do not perform the assigned roles of that given gender are therefore very deserving of abuse, humiliation, and even death.

Responsibility...

Responsibility…we as a nation, and/or generation, have evolved into an entity that rejects and continually pawns accountability onto someone or something else, but in fear of what? A ruined reputation, or financial, civil and criminal repercussions? But with that said, it would be nice if more people started standing behind their decisions, actions and work, especially if creating a heated social production for society to intake and react to. Responsibility should weigh on the minds of everyone in any situation.

In the case of Boys Don’t Cry, Pierce took liberties to ensure that the message, emotion and power of this horrific event was portrayed and felt by her audience. In that sense, I feel that Pierce was aware of the “responsibility? she took on to give Brandon and his story agency, even if it wasn’t told verbatim. Some of the other posts to this topic touched on the fact that Pierce left out a third victim’s story, and in that sense she somehow didn’t live up to the accountability she signed up for. Yet, if Pierce set out to tell the story of Brandon Teena and felt that the third victim confused that story or hindered the sympathy conjured or ground gained for the transgendered community, as a filmmaker/director she should be granted that right. Leaving out the third victim doesn’t make what happened to Brandon any less true.

Saly's Response

I Believe I can safely say that this was the most intense movie I have EVER seen. The word scary still comes to mind every time I think about it. I think what scared me most was the fact that during certain parts of the movie I was thinking this can’t possibly happen. There is no way a person can be this cruel, there is no way police officers could be that merciless or stupid; only to find out at the end that it was a true story. I believe everyone would agree that the most disturbing scene in the whole movie was the rape scene. Although we were warned before the movie started that the rape scene would be graphic, I never honestly thought it would be like that. I have never felt so sick in my life from watching anything; and worst of all I kept feeling sick every time I thought of the movie (I could not eat for days after). The part of the movie that angered me most was the scene after the rape scene where Brendan goes to the police station and reports John and Tom, and the police have enough evidence from the analysis to incriminate them, but instead of going to get them they are sitting there asking questions that are not relevant to the case; like “why do you like to kiss girls?? How is that any of their business? How is that relevant? Why would that matter? There is a rape victim in front of them and all they want to know about it her sexual preference? That seems both unjust and inhumane. The part the really ticked me off was that the police called up John and Tom asking them to stop by the station the next morning, instead of going to get them and throwing them in jail. If the police would have locked them up instead of calling them politely they would have never gotten the chance to kill two innocent people. I believe when a crime like this one takes place all personal qualities of the victim should be disregarded. There should be reason why anyone should have to suffer through something so disturbing because of their sexual preference or any other personal piece of information. I think this had a large impact of the public because I believe that after anyone watches this movie, even if they don’t agree with Brandon’s life style, they start to feel sympathy for her. They see that no one deserves this kind of treatment and hatred.

Violence in narrative

This movie was difficult for me to watch, however I was very upset with myself for how little I seemed to be effected by it, at first. I'm not a monster I swear. I didn't realize while watching the film that it was based on a true story. I watched the film believing that it wasn't, and I used that assumption to help me get through it. I had heard from many people that the film was incredibly difficult to watch, and I spent the entire film on edge waiting for some scene of horrific violence which came at the very end. I think the rape was probably the worst part of the film for me. The murder scene however, had very little effect on me. I think this was a combination of the fact that I still believed I was watching fiction and because, for me, the rape scene was much more traumatic. All the while I kept thinking about how I was mostly affected by the images of rape, and not the characters story, again not because I didn't care but because I convinced myself that it wasn't real, but rape is very real and you know that it happens every day, even if it didn’t happen to a character name Brandon. Throughout the film my mind kept drifting to the Matthew Shepard story. I have seen two stage versions of the Laramie Project and the film. Each piece has been very hard for me and I always find myself in a crying fit that usually last well after the end of the film/play. So when I realized Boys Don't Cry was a true story my heart absolutely fell. It was such a difficult feeling, similar to my feelings with Laramie, but different. I keep wondering what my response to the film would have been had I known while I watched the murders that they were real peoples lives that were lost. The only way to know is if I watch it again, which I'm not apt to do.

So what’s my point? For me its amazing the difference the simple words “based on a true story? can make. With movies that feature such terrible stories, to get through them I have to remind myself that it’s not real, it’s just a film. I need to be careful that I am not sutured into the narrative. This is hard to do, but when I know I am watching a retelling of someone’s life, there is just no way to take that step back. I wonder though about the violence. I'm not an advocate of violent films. I understand that violence exists and that to an extent it needs to be addressed, but some films I feel get carried away, or they use violence for the wrong reasons. I worry that some violent films only give people new ideas, new ways to hurt others. Do I think Boy's Don't Cry does this? I don't know. It is important to address the issues of rape, hate crimes and murder, but what I think is key when addressing them is to show why they are wrong. That means the effects need to be demonstrated, not just the act. I think Boy's Don't Cry did a successful job making us understand the horror of rape. For me however, it wasn’t necessary. I didn't need to watch the actual rape to understand what it would do to Brandon, or why the crime was so terrible. Perhaps some people do. Maybe some people just can't understand until they can see it. This brings me back to Laramie. Why I love the Laramie Project is because it is completely devoid of violence, and yet, there is no way to walk away from it without knowing that the violence surrounding Matthew's death was horrible. You never even see Matthew; we don't need to fall in love with the character to feel sympathy for him. We just understand based on the effects it had on others that the crime was truly terrible.

I guess I don't know what my point is. This is a hard film, for all of us. I think what it comes down to is this. To make a statement about hate, violence, ignorance or any issue really, the best way to do so is to use a real life example, then no one can hide from it (well some people still may but you have to at that point realize those people may be lost to hate). Also it does not always take explicit violence to make a point, it’s not the images of violence but the images of the lives affected, the faces and the hurt, the emotion that get to us. But perhaps some people need to see the violence to understand. Just like I need to know it’s a true story before I’m truly affected. Maybe the shock of knowing its real is like the shock of seeing instead of just knowing it happened. I guess we all respond differently. As long as everyone can walk away from a film like Boys Don’t Cry or Laramie Project and understand that hate and violence are wrong, it doesn't really matter how they figured it out.

Emily's response

I agree with the general consensus of pervious posts in that films like Boys Don’t Cry have a large impact on public views of issues presented. I feel that this impact is both positive and negative.

I had a similar reaction to others as I left the classroom; feelings of empathy, despair, I had a really hard time jumping back into my day. How can there be so much hate in the world? This film acts to raise awareness and combat ignorance surrounding transgender issues. Many people fear and hate what they cannot understand, and Boys Don’t Cry may help people to understand Brandon.

But this is also the downfall of the film. They way that people understand Brandon may be the way the public understands all transgender people. Since this film is breaking new ground in mainstream media as depicting the transgender experience, it may be taken as the authority on the subject since its all some people have been exposed to. And because it’s based on a true story, many people will assume the narrative is accurate to true life, which isn’t likely. And even if it was, this is one person, not all transgender people. While the oppressed and marginalized people in a society all share that as a common experience, it’s really important to understand how much variation within a group there is. Look at feminism, with so many divisions of people saying “this is my experience, and it’s very different than yours?. As time progresses, we will see more and more varied representations of transgender people that reflect the huge variation of experience within this group of people. Until then, let’s keep in mind that Brandon is just one of many.

Boys Don't Cry and the public's view on issues

After watching this movie, I now understand more about the issues that people go through when they are having a "sexual identity crisis" like Teena Brandon was in the movie. I think that after watching this, anyone should be concerned and want to do something to help or make a change with society because no one should have to go through what she went through and die because of who they are and who they want to become.
I think that films like this NEED to impact the public's view on issues. People need to see this film to gain a better understanding of people and what they go through when they go against the norm. I think this film has relevance to the present issue of same-sex marriage and same-sex partnership because this film makes you feel for Teena and this film could help change people's minds about banning same-sex marriage.
If more people could learn about instances like this and learn from them, then the world would be a better place and the public could become more accepting of people who are different and see the things that people go through to be themselves and to live the life they want to live. No one should have to go through what Teena Brandon went through just to be who they are and be raped and killed for it. This film did have an impact on the public at the time, but I feel that it would have an even bigger impact on the public now because of the issues people are facing now in our society.

Reponse to Stephanie's Post on Documentary

I agree with Stephanie's point about the positive reasons for not creating this film as a documentary. One reason for this is the wider audience this movie can attract. Like Stephanie said, if this were a documentary, the audience would be even smaller and this issue would not have caused such an uproar at the time it premiered. Another reason a Hollywood film was a good choice was the way Brandon's life was shown. Although Hilary Swank did a great job of becoming a male figure and blurring the line between male and female, she is still an attractive actress. This was an extremely safe representation of the violence of the incident. The rape scene was incredibly hard to watch, as was the majority of the movie, but it was still created in a way that made it easy for a wide audience to watch it. Because of Pierce's choice to create a Hollywood film, instead of a documentary, more people were affected by Brandon's story, and were not turned away because of something too graphic or uncomfortable.

Documentary

I feel that Boys Don't Cry was able to bring up taboo issues that much of society rarely acknowledges in an empathetic intimate style.The documentary would definately not have engaged the audience as well as the Hollywood narritive because the narritive was formatted to give a more personal, yet milder content suited for a wider audience range. It still is gritty enough to be considered offensive by many people, but it gives an insite on the violence surrounding the so often disregarded 'others' in society. Also, the Hollywood film was not a best seller. Many people do not care to pay money to watch a film that will make them uncomfortable. If Boys Don't Cry were a documentary, I think even fewer people would have seen it. I think that the choice to omit certain parts of the true story was beneficial in that it allowed the viewer to get more involved with the characters and film. If it were a documentary, it would have been more aloof because we would only know half the story. This way we are able to be taken into Brandon Teena's life, even if its not wholly accurate.

Boys Don't Cry: Raising Knowledge of Public Issues

As earlier stated, films can be easily avoided by the close minded, which was possibly the case for Boys Don't Cry. This is part of the beauty of film: although it can open one's eyes into a completely different world than their own, if one isn't ready or feels too uncomfortable around it, they can miss out. Even though this film may not have put a fortune into the pockets of all who participated in it's making due to that fact that transgender issues are very controversial, it definitely brought the issues to the attention of those that were willing to be exposed to it.
I think that in time, this movie will continue to bring transgender, gay and homophobic issues to the attention of many people who may not understand but are willing to try.
After seeing it, I have talked to many of my friends about the film and the issues brought up by it. These discussions are important in creating acceptance- and were sparked by the film. I think that even if a few minds were changed, enlightened, or somehow affected by the film or any hollywood film, it has done it's job.

If Boys Don't Cry was a documentary...

If Boys Dont Cry had been a documentary about Brandon Teena, it would have been a very different film. Either Brandon Teena wouldn't have been raped and killed in the end, if the film crew had prevented it, or these scenes would not have been included, if the crew was absent, or the crew also would have been murdered. This would have changed the entire film, as the rape and murder of Brandon Teena was the terrible climax that followed the tension that had been rising throughout the film. Therefore Boys Dont Cry could really only exist as a retold story, and not a as documentary. Retold stories allow for personal experiences to be recreated on film and worked into a story. Although Brandon's story would have been harrowing and horrible told in any format, the level of emotional involvement that Boys Dont Cry achieves with the audience could only be attained through this format. The character development and plot, both of which could not have been so linear and flowing in a documentary, leave the audience relating to Brandon Teena. The audience then has difficulty watching the violent scenes, and walks away from the film angry that Brandon Teena was murdered. This additional emotional pull involved in retelling an already emotional story makes Boys Dont Cry an excellent tool for fighting prejudice, and probably a more effective one than a documentary. Boys Dont Cry has broader audience appeal than a documentary. It is a piece of critically acclaimed mainstream cinema, which certainly indicates a large number of viewers. This large audience is one way in which the retelling of the Brandon Teena story has power that a documentary does not. Even if a member of the audience of Boys Dont Cry does not walk away from the film angry that Brandon is dead, they will at least be thinking about people outside of the male/female gender and sex binary. The simple act of thinking about people, and knowing they exist, helps to pull them out of the margins of society.

Also on responsibility

After class I had a number of mixed emotions, it was hard for me to stop thinking about the film for days after we watched it. I wanted to walk out of class but was also compelled to find out what would happen in the end. I decided to look up Teena's story online to find out how true to his life Kimberly Pierce had kept the film. I too was shocked to find out there was a third, African-American male victim who was not portrayed in this film and wondered why. I began to question the validity and reliablity of Pierce's story. I thought this film did an excellent job on eliciting emotions from the audience, but questioned how much of the last few weeks of Teena's life was altered to do just that. I think it is the responsibility of the filmmaker to tell the true story and was disappointed that she felt to leave out the third victim. How and why did she make such a choice? I remember in one of the readings Pierce had mentioned that she had found a beautiful farmhouse and wanted to use that one but that others had told her that it was important for them to find a farmhouse that showed what class the people were from as if to say that the viewers will better respond to lower class, uneducated, small town folks who have nothing better to do than to drink. I wondered if the decision to leave out the third victim was because he did not fit in to the story they were trying to tell. Could it be that she left him out because if the murderers and victims socialized with an African-American male, the audience would not see them as the small town, close-minded individuals the filmmaker wanted them to be portrayed as? The action of the two murderer's proved that (the closed-minded, uneducated part) which is why it was unnecessary to leave out the involvement of the victim, Phillip DeVine. If you are going to tell a true story, especially one you are not witness to, respect all who are involved. This is not to say that the film itself was not any less powerful or effective, again, I just believe that when you are telling a true story, especially one of this magnitude of such a socially significant issue and of importance, it is your responsibility to tell the most accurate account and not alter it according to how you feel it should be portrayed to the public.

Boys don't cry and its location

Boys Don’t Cry is a film that makes you think. When I left class, and for the most of the next day, it was in my head. I had never seen it before and the dramatic way that it ended shocked me a great deal. I thought the reaction of the two men was quite drastic. I think it has great deal to do with where the story took place. It does make all the difference that it was a small town in the south rather than large city. I do agree that there is prejudice in every city and people everywhere are always afraid of what they don’t understand but the difference here is due to exposure. If the men had been around homosexuality and gender confused individuals they wouldn’t have reacted in the drastic fashion they did. Granted they were trouble men with histories of crime but many other places around the country had this happened, a confrontation would have settled it. It was, however terrible, a well made film. And I think it can teach people about things they are not so familiar with or at least make them think a little.

Brandon's Performance and Normative Society

This film effectively portrays the effort and conscious decisions it takes to perform gender. Brandon tries so hard to fit in and he does things that he really doesn't want to do because he thinks that thats what men do, and this is what he says to Lana after skiing on the trucks. He doesn't know how to fit in and doesn't seem to fit in any place that he stays. Either he should just admit she's a dyke, or he does whatever it takes, doing anything the men say to try to fit in. He never seems to be good enough. Throughout the film, this inability to fit in or be 'good enough' portrays the difficulty of transgender and transsexuals to fit in or the never ending struggle to be good enough in the eyes of normative society. He is depicted as the 'lesser' and the 'other' trying to become 'normal.' Normal within the film is a reflection of attitudes within society. Normal men and women, no matter how many faults they have, are still superior to the 'gender confused'.

Hollywood's Responsibility

In the situation of Boys Don't Cry, I feel like there is a real responsibility to tell the story accurately. This is such a controversial issue and type of film that the subject matter needs to be approached in a way that is respectful of the family of the vitctims involved. I had not known a lot about this film until I saw it. I was unaware that this was based on a true story, and I am actually glad I did not know until the end, because I think it would have been that much harder to watch. Although, I think the film showed the facts and shed a light on the manner that was done in a sensitive way to the family involved, while still being upfront and out right honest about the activities involved in by Teena and her friends. I really feel that because this is such a social issue, and because it was a true story that the filmmakers have a responsibility to tell the story accurately. I think that regardless of the point of view of the filmmaker, that they should be able to speak to the way they told the story, and present it in the most truthful way possible.

In regards to the reading, it talks about how she was shown the way others depicted her during interviews, but the way that she really was will never be known because it was not actually documented. However, even though this is a criticism of the film, I still feel that it is the best that can be done to tell the story. There is no way to guarentee that an actor will exactly portray someone else perfectly, but if it were the case it would mean a lot less telling of truly important stories. So, in this regard I disagree with the reading and I think that it is trying to tell the story as accurately as possible is the point, not how to-a-tee is the character portrayal.

Comments on the casting...

So many people commented on the casting of Swank. I find Bodnia’s comments interesting and a bit thought provoking. Initially, I thought the same thing about casting a big Hollywood actress… that it would overshadow or take away from the theme or purpose of the movie. Upon further thought, I have to say I disagree though. After all, that is the job of an actor, to get the audience to believe they are the character. I do not think that casting someone like Julia Roberts into the role would take away the “personal connection? for the same reason Bodnia suggested that it would… because the film deals with a sensitive topic. I think that the most important thing when casting the character of Brandon was that the audience was able to identify with him as a person. In the excerpts on Kimberly Pierce's creative process it is quoted that she (the director) “was looking for a human response,? and that the point of the story was “to include people in Brandon’s journey.? I think that this film would have had the same emotional connection to Brandon’s character no matter who played it, as long as they played the character with as much interest with portraying the actual person as Swank did.

I do agree with Bodnia’s comments that her physical features or stereotypical “masculine? features of facial structure and muscular body type had some influence on the directorial decision of Swank’s casting. I don’t know anything about casting or many of the details to the film process in general, but I wonder if the directorial decision was as much thought out as to thinking of casting an unknown actress such as Swank because Brandon Teena was kind of unknown as well… to herself and others and that they both (the character of Brandon and Swank as an actress) felt as if they had something to prove in “doing? the role.

November 12, 2006

The story of Teena Brandon is such a tragedy. The fact that this incident took place should break anyone's heart. The fact that it took place in a small town, however, I think is not a topic of importance. True security is higher and acceptance is more likely in a larger town or city but this hatred towards homosexuals and transgenders is found in every size town in America. It is truly unfortunate that this is the case. However, with the emotion and truth portrayed in this film, Kimberly Pierce does a good job at bringing the story to the publics attention in an appropriate and respectable manner. Watching this terrible hate crime reenacted is much more affective than a documentary would have been. Where a documentary would tell the story completely factual, it would not give the same images and character connection that a film can give.

While watching Boys Don't Cry, the viewer is introduced to the characters and given a chance to feel their emotions along with them. When Brandon's true identity comes out towards the end, viewers can't help but be intrigued and hurt by the events that take place. For one to watch this movie and witness the tragedy, they become educated and are likely to be affected by how horrible this hatred really is and how unnecessary it is within our society. To see this film in it's entirety gives people the realization of American society can change. It is not necessary for a viewers opinions on homosexuality to change but it should be noted how ridiculous it is to hate someone so strongly for their way of life.

Boys Don't Cry and Public Opinion

Films can be very powerful works of art. Important films can stir public conversation and opinion. Unfortunatly I don't think Boys Don't Cry reaches this level. Don't get me wrong, it is a very good film, with great performances from Hilary Swank and Chloe Sevigny. I would classify Boys Don't Cry as a film that preaches to the choir. Most of the people who have seen it already lean towards acceptance of homosexuals/transgender issues and the film just reaffirms their beliefs. Now you can make the argument that Fahrenheit 9/11 preached to choir as well, but the difference is that Fahreinheit also rallied the oppisition. Boys Don't Cry didn't have that effect as it played in mostly liberal parts of the country, and could be easily ignored by the opponents of gay/transgender rights. Even though Swank won the Oscar, the film was never front page news. Yes, it may have swayed people on the fence, or those with no previous opinion, but how many people is that? According to IMDB, the film only grossed 11.5 million dollars in its theatrical release. I don't remember it setting records in video sales or rentels. Yes the film helped shine a light on the issue, bu not too many people saw the light. That is not to say its a bad film, it just plays better to a specific audience, and was easily ignored by most of the country.

Casting Choices

I think this film was extremely well cast. Based on the setting and lifestyles of the characters, the actors in this film represented their characters the way they probably should have been. Hilary Swank was an excellent choice for the film, but I don't know that I agree that she was 'unknown' at the time. She had appeared in numerous television shows and movies prior to her portrayal of Teena Brandon, so its not like this was her first role. She was known, but she just hadn't made it to that upper tier until this role. Obviously casting Swank paid off as she won best actress. The film probably would have still been good without her in it, but she brought a certain believability to the role. As far as the other actors in the film, i really enjoyed Peter Saarsgard in his role. He projects a lot of life in his character. Its easy to feel both sympathy and anger towards him. He wasn't very well known either until recently as he has been in successful films such as Garden State and Flight Plan. Chloe Sevigny was also a good choice for her character. She portrayed the small town, trailer trash very well and the believability of these characters is what makes the film successful in my opinion.
I think that these actors had to be less known than others, yet had to have qualities of being a good actor. They also had to fit into the stereotypes of the characters. The casting was done extremely well. Hilary Swank's versatility is reflected and she does a perfect job of portraying Brandon in the film.

Boys Don't Cry, Pierce's Accountability

When Kimberly Pierce decided that this story was one that inspired her enough to make a movie about it she assumed the responsibility of being responsible for its outcome. A story such as Boys Dont Cry requires alot of research and accuracy to ensure that the "real story" behind the film is acurately portrayed. Of course in a Hollywood film directors are often expected to take some creative license, because even the most dramatic real life stories can always be made a little more dramatic in Hollywood, but back to my initial point... When Kimberly Pierce made Boys Dont Cry she became responsible for just about every aspect of the film from the initial research of the story, and Teena Brandon to the inteseness of the final rape/murder scenes. It was her project from the beginning, and as with something that someone/anyone takes onand wants there name to be on you are responsible for the content of that work. I read an article that discussed how the members of the towns portrayed in the movies were upset with the movie because of their portrayal as biggot, drunk, idiots. It is that kind of backlash that Pierce should be held accountable for. She also gets the pleasure of getting the credit for the positive things surrounding the film such as Swanks Academy Award. Its a double edged sword, but I do think that Pierce is and should be responsible for the films content, and criticism and praise.

Boys Don't Cry Response

I believe that movies, such as Boys Don't Cry, DO bring attention to concerning and pressing issues that the audience(public) should be aware of. Just as media sell more tragic stories and headlines, movies that end in tragedy tend to pique awareness. Usually, this effect is heightened even more, if there is tragedy or death in a film that is based on true events. In Boys Don't Cry for instance, Brandon's tragic death at the end of the film really secures the urgent importance for audiences to understand and sympathize with transgender individuals. As Kimberly Pierce mentioned in her creative process interview, she wanted the audience to really sympathize with Brandon's situation, as well as other characters. This is why Pierce wanted to accurately portray even small details such as the farmhouse that the film was shot on. Instead of choosing a nicer-looking farmhouse, Pierce understood that that would not accurately depict the true setting of the film. Inturn, the audience's response would not be accurate and as sympathetic. Sometimes, however, in films this awareness is heightened through exaggeration of the "true" events. Pierce mentions that Brandon's reasons and responses are unclear/ or not 100% known, simply because there was no direct interview with Brandon. Essentially, the director chooses why a character would think or act a certain way. I don't think that this exaggeration, though, lessens the audiences awareness or the impact on the audience. Ultimately, I believe that a film even slightly based on true events sends a stronger message and urgency to the audience watching and absorbing images that are then translated into prolific messages.

The impact on public views

A number of people have commented on the question “Do films such as this impact the public views on issues?? I agree that these types of films definitely impact public opinion on the issues they deal with. When a movie such as Boys Don’t Cry generate so much conversation and draw so much attention it is inevitable that they will influence public opinion. I found this film both incredibly difficult to watch and totally captivating.
I think that many people are unaware of the differences and difficulties faced by various “othered? groups, and this is why there is hatred and disapproval of such groups. By making Boys Don’t Cry, Kimberly Pierce provided a vein through which people can have some sort of contact with a person whom they might normally judge or look down upon. By viewing this two hour film, audience members can watch from a distance, see the whole story first, and then reflect on it afterward. Without some sort of contact, many people would hold to prejudices against these “othered? groups, but this contact the film provides helps dissolve prejudices because it is impossible not to connect on some level with Brandon. I think that films such as this provide a way for people to have some sort of experience with a person whom they might judge and whom they would normally not have any contact with. Hopefully at least some hatred, discrimination, or intolerance was avoided or broken because of this film. In any event, I think that films such as this are catalysts for important conversation.

Truth vs. Facts in the Recreation of Events

Retelling the story of Brandon Teena, or any story for that matter, in a theatrical manner as opposed to a documentary involves the audience in a completely different way. As several people have mentioned in previous posts, viewing this film had an extremely significant effect on them. In any “good? movie, actors always discuss how they had to truly become their character in order to accurately portray someone believable. As Kimberly Pierce mentions in the article about her creative process, she recounts the development of the rape scene and that she told actor Brendan Sexton III “you’re not yet doing it [raping Brandon] because you don’t need to do it? (100). Once he was able to internalize his character’s emotions and self loathing, the scene was perfect and had an incredible effect on the actor from the internal conflicts of actually becoming that person. As an audience member, this character development makes the scene more believable and realistic and I was able to feel the horror of witnessing the scene as if it were happening right before me and I could do nothing to stop it. Instead of hearing the facts of an event, regardless of how shocking they may be, the viewer realizes what it’s like to be involved rather than hearing and dismissing it as something that doesn’t directly or personally affect them. Clearly a dramatized version won’t be as accurate as a documentary filled with straight facts and unbiased representations, but I believe it to be more true to the event itself. It’s impossible to completely and perfectly recreate true events without having filmed the event directly because even memories and recaps will have certain biases. However, even an actual viewing of the event would not necessarily capture everything truly involved in the scene. Pierce explains the process of researching and then internalizing the story to begin the creative development of the recreation of not only the cold facts but also the actual horror and emotions of what went on that may not be visible to an audience automatically. Because it’s impossible to know exactly how a person is feeling or thinking, it is up to the director or writer to decide through their own creative process and internalization of the characters how they will be portrayed, whether it is factually accurate or not. The question of accuracy regarding the number of murders has been brought up a few times in previous posts and I see this omission as a way to avoid distraction, drawing more accuracy from the final scene because of the way it will be interpreted by the audience and the importance to the plot. Because it is too difficult for the audience to develop an emotional or personal connection to several characters (or at least one that is significant), Candace’s death represents both individuals who were murdered as sort of innocent bystanders as opposed to the premeditated murder of Brandon. I presume that this third person who was killed was either unknown or of little plot importance in the rest of the story and would easily be brushed aside as another casualty in the event instead of noting the brutality of the death of an actual person. Rather than this omission devaluing this missing character’s life, it leaves the audience with the proper reaction because of their familiarity to Candace.

Continue reading "Truth vs. Facts in the Recreation of Events" »

the "unknown" actress

I do agree with the posts below in regards to Swank being a good choice because no one could identify her with any previous roles. I was also thinking of other reasons it would be beneficial to use Swank and I came up with the idea that it was possible that Swank might be bolder and able to do a more controversial role because she was new to the Hollywood scene.

Many actresses have in their contracts what they will and will not do with regards to nudity and sex scenes. Swank probably wanted to make a big impression (I assume) in the Hollywood scene and probably would not object to the demands that the movie had. Because of this, Swank was a good choice because she might have been more willing to do controversial nudity and sex scenes that might not have been done by using another actress. It is probably true that well known actresses would have not had a problem with the nudity or sex scenes, as in the case of the film "Monster" but everyone knew what Charlize Theron looked like and for me at least during most of the movie I was wondering how she looked so different. Because I had never scene Swank before the thought of what she really looked like never occurred to me. Because of the combination of her probably not having many restrictions on her contract and because she was new to the scene made Swank the perfect choice for the film because these attributes made her believable.

Language

When watching this movie I didn’t feel that language had a big role; I felt that the actions of the characters in the film were more important. During the film when the other characters learn about Brandon’s situation, most of them switch to referring to Brandon as “she?. Lana is really the only one that keeps referring to Brandon as “he?. When the others learn about Brandon, they get angry because someone different, someone they don’t approve of, is in their lives. Lana stands up for Brandon because she loves him. This movie doesn’t discuss the issues of what is transgender, cross dressing, or transsexual. This movie is more about the unnecessary hate and violence that is brought upon people who are “different?. At one point in the movie, when Brandon is talking to Lana in jail, he tries to explain his situation and he mentions some medical term and that this condition is quite normal. If I am correct, that is the only instance where we hear Brandon try to define anything. We also learn that he is or is trying to take some hormones in order to get a sex change, but that is also a very brief conversation. I don’t think that Kimberly Pierce’s main focus was to discuss if Brandon was transsexual or transgender; I feel that the film mostly portrayed the problem of pointless hate and violence that we have towards people who don’t fit the “norm of our society?.

Hollywood and one-sided views

Although I do feel that it's one of the responsibilities of the media to bring serious issues into the the publics view, I would argue that most filmmakers have one track mindset and don't voice the opinions of more than just one side of an issue.

The fact is most Americans are aware of current events because they DO read newspapers, watch television broadcasts and access a variety of news based websites. Anyone who would argue that the majority of working adults in America watch more hours of movies than spend familiarizing themselves with current events is just plain wrong. More Americans tune into the nightly newscasts than put in movies or go to the theaters. I would say that it's more an issue of importance, rather than being oblivious. The American public, generally, only cares about issues that affect them or they can relate to--news organizations know this and more often air stories that the greater majority can associate with. I do however believe that, even though Americans are not familiar with the Teena Brandon story, they are familiar with the prejudices that the gay, lesbian, and transgender community faces.

Hundred of people are killed every day in this world for reasons more pointless than the one Brandon was killed for. Is a pizza delivery boy being murdered for a free pizza an issue of any less importance than the death of a girl for fooling people about her true gender? Movies could be made about virtually any reason for murder–-"Boys Don't Cry" just happened to strike a chord with the gay, lesbian and transgender community. Could it have been that director Kimberly Pierce planned to side with that particular audience and thus angled the message of the movie for them? Other groups might not see the importance of the murder of a person with a sexual identity crisis other than the fact that they were murdered.

In the end, it is the producers and directors who decide what is important. From the reading of "Branding Teena: (Mis)Representations in the Media," we get the idea that Director Pierce could have gone off on several different paths when telling the story. When discussing whether or not the victim Brandon Teena really did want to have a sex change, "Pierce at least felt it was a possibility" (414). When you have complete control over the direction of a film, you decide what the audience should believe is important and what is not.

Not a Transgender Movie

Some argue that this film is about backwater USA dealing with a transgender person. People can be transgender, but based on what I've seen in this film--which some claim inaccurately portrays the events--shows a lesbian dealing with her lesbianism. She grew up in a community that does not want or appreciate homosexuality. She probably learned about her identity at a very young age. And according to Butler, "Identity categories tend to be instruments of regulatory regimes..." and the term lesbian was just that, so to avoid that term and the hate surrounding it--Teena Brandon changed her identity (409). Teena Brandon's male facade made Brandon feel accepted and empowered.

Why do I believe this, you say? I would have called this a transgender movie, if it wasn't for the lesbian scene at the end where we see that Teena is accepted for who she is and doesn't need a rubber phallus to make love. If Teena Brandon wasn't killed, I think that she would have come to terms with her lesbianism.

And to argue against something Alex said--I don't believe that the media is in Hollywood's pocket. The media has been blamed on so many levels. In fact, the "Branding Miss Teena" article does nothing but blame the media for their missuse or misunderstanding. I stand by Adam Mars-Jones from The Times (refer to page 417). If he muddled up the meaning of the film, then why aren't we focusing on the filmmakers portrayals? I am proof that he wasn't the only one who apparently missed the "real" meaning of the film.

Thoughts? Retorts or Rebuttals?

The "Unknown" Swank

The only reason I can think of as to why Pierce would cast the “unknown? Swank is that the audience wouldn’t have any other role to see her in. Any other actress would be difficult to believe she was a man. I would have the tendency to see her as a woman, a woman in a previous film. I didn’t have anything to compare the character of “Brandon? to. It was easier for me to forget that Swank was actually a woman. There were times when I saw her as a man. This was the point of casting a fresh actor.

Let’s say Pierce would’ve cast Natalie Portman. It would be challenging to divorce our minds from the women she has previously played. I might snap back to see her in a pink wig like she wore in “Closer?. There are many examples to draw upon. It would be difficult to believe that someone so feminine, so womanly, could ever believe she was a man, or play the part of a man.

Swank was successful in her portrayal. When “Brandon? was “bumper surfing,? or whatever it was called, I remember the way his body was positioned. I read his body as masculine. The way he raised his fist to the sky, the way he stood on the bumper, and the way he stood up and shook of a fall. There was nothing feminine about the way this scene was played.

I constantly forgot the “Brandon? was being played by a woman. Maybe it’s because I have female-to-male friends, or male-to-female friends? I don’t rely on how their body parts identify their gender. I rely on what comes out of their mouths, the way they carry themselves, and how they dress. Swank was a man. The former tools of identity were those of a man. She did a fabulous job of portraying a man. Sure, she was a pretty man, but there are pretty men out there. We’ve all seen them, right?

I also agree with Whitney and Renee. Films such as Boy's Don't Cry do impact the public views on issues. I think the main goal of a film like that is to bring the issue to the viewers' attention. In today's socitey it seems that most people go about their lives and don't open themselves up for anything that isn't the "norm", especially in a small town. I hope that, as it happenned to me, every person that watched this film was in shock at the inhumanity that was portrayed in it. I think the degree of the impact on the public depends highly on the story, the portrayal of the issue in the film, and most importantly how it its told. For me it was very difficult to watch because when I came to US, I was under thim impression that this was a country that was not prejudice to other peoples' choices and lifestyles but more and more I witness the opposite. The film wasn't supposed to change the viewer's mind and change their beliefs but it just simply said: Brand Teena was a real person, with hopes and dreams, just like everybody else...and just because she didn't fit the "norm mold" her life tragically ended.

Hollywood and Public Views

Movies such as Boys Don't Cry, that are based on true events do play an important role in bringing serious issues into public view. Although it is sad, many Americans do not watch the news or read newspapers and have very little knowledge about current events. Despite this lack of connection to current events, most Americans do watch mainstream media such as television shows and Hollywood movies. Movies like this attract viewers that see it as entertainment only, but then bring serious issues into the mainstream. Also, it forces people to see the main character as an actual person. This is important for people that maybe heard the story and dismissed it as unimportant. In the case of this particular movie is is important for people to see Teena/Brandon as an actual person and to see many of the horrible things that she/he experienced in life. People are much more likely to be sympathetic to an issue if they can understand it and relate it to an actual person. This effect can have negative results though, as described by the article "Branding Teena: (Mis)Representations in the Media." Saying that a movie is based on a true story can result in people believing that the movie is somehow a documentary or 100% accurate, when it fact it is just a representation of what someone believed happened. As this article points out, many things are left out, like the death of the third person and other things are added for dramatic effect. The writer and director also add their own beliefs to the film, such as the part when Brandon says that he cannot afford the time or money to go through surgery; it is not known whether this is true because filmmakers were not able to interview Brandon, but Kimberly Pierce thought this was the most likely explanation. Because of this, films based on actual events are important, but the filmmakers and actors are responsible for their portrayals and the audience must understand that these films are not entirely truthful and accurate.

Jillian Schwantz and Kimberly Pierce

I would have to agree that Kimberly has made a strong effort to recreate a story that is honest and real. In her readings, she discusses how she completely researched, went to trials, and conducted interviews, all to achieve a perfect story. She wrote about how she was concerned that perhaps she is wrong, and that she really wanted to know "Who is Brandon Teena?" Unfortunately, when you never knew someone, it is hard to convey them to the world. However, I think Kimberly did a perfect job at creating a Brandon that we can all relate to and connect with.
Kimberly discusses in specific instances that she had to have the actors do the rape scene more than once because she wanted it to have feeling. During this experience, the character Tom cries and reveals that he would never want to be or feel what his characters lives. Any director that can turn the entire cast into a group of real people discovering things about themselves has truly done a phenomenal job. I truly believe that as an author Kimberly has done her job, and has conveyed to the audience that these characters are real, even if they were never who she played them to be in Boys Don’t Cry.

Jillian Schwantz and kimberly pierce

I would have to agree that Kimberly has made a strong effort to recreat a story that is honest and real. In her readings, she discusses how she completely researched, went to trials, conducted interviews, all to achieve a perfect story. She wrote about how she was concerned that perhaphs she is wrong, and that she really wanted to know "Who is Brandon Teena?" Unfortunately, when you never knew someone, it is hard to convey them to the world. However, I think Kimberly did a perfect job at creating a Brandon that we can all relate to and connect with.
Kimberly discusses in specific instances that she had to have the actors do the rape scene more than once because she wanted it to have feeling. During this experience, the character Tom cries and reveals that he would never want to be or feel what his characters lives. Any director that can turn the entire cast into a group of real people discovering things about themselves, has truly done a phenomenal job. I truly believe that as an author Kimberly has done her job, and has conveyed to the audience that these characters are real, even if they never were who she played them to be.

Responsibility

Being that Hollywood dominates the media when it comes to movies because of their big budgets and connections I feel it would be a joke to think that Hollywood filmmakers and actors shouldn’t be held accountable for the stories they tell. Boys Don’t Cry is a perfect example of a movie that needs people to be responsible for the retelling. Because it’s a true story the storyteller has to be as accurate as possible, especially when the topic is so significant. Everyone that watches this movie will learn something and depending on the way the story is told this could be good or bad. By showing the reality and by letting people see what it could be like to have to live your life like Brandon, they are able to comprehend the situation more clearly. If this story was told through the eyes of anyone else like John, then we might get a different view of Brandon. Without a doubt it would be extremely hostel towards people with different sexuality preferences. This could make people feel as though his actions would be justified but this would be incredibly wrong. So if people didn’t take responsibility for the work they did there could be many movies that could hurt society and give people the wrong impressions. The responsibility falls onto everyone that is evolved in the process from the writers to the actors.

Gender Performances

Regarding to the “unknown? actress, I didn’t even know who Hilary Swank was until the movie “A Million Dollar Baby? came out and that happens to the first and only movie that I seen of Swank. For the reasons that I didn’t really know who Swank was, her character as Brandon to me was a lot more realistic and effective whereas if it was to be play by a famous actor that I know. I thought Swank did an excellent job at acting as a boy which was really real to me. In retrospective, this reminds me that gender is always being performed.
In the movie “Boys Don’t Cry? I think it helps explore the idea of gender as performative. Throughout the movie I thought it shows some really good demonstrations of how a man and a woman is suppose to act or what it’s roles is supposed to be like. For example, it’s quite evident that the men in the movie are all “macho? whereas the women are the opposite. Another example in the movie that I thought displayed gender performance extremely well was when the guy asked Brandon to stand up behind a Ford runner while the car was still in motion and driving over dangerous bumps to see how long he can last standing. Even though Brandon fell down a couple of times he continues to try again because he knows that “playing dangerously? was something that the guys do. Furthermore, considering the fact that no one can even determine that Brendon was a girl (until someone found her tampon underneath the mattress) proves the fact that gender is indeed performed. As Brendon has demonstrated in the movie, everyday our gender is performed through our behaviors, posture, how we carry ourselves, what we wear, how we speak and what we do. In short, this movie goes to prove that as a performance, gender is never fully established or completely internalized by us. Instead, we must daily repeat our acts and gestures of gender to reinforce our identities as woman or man.

Jessie's Post: Unknown Actress

Although it is a popular belief, I agree with the other postings that casting Hilary Swank, the "unknown" actress, to play the lead role was a great choice, and I think that's obvious from the fact that she won an Oscar. The first movie I ever saw her in was "The Next Karate Kid" and this not only shows that she has come a long way as an actress, but also that she can play a wide array of roles. She did a great job of making her performance believable and I think that casting a big name actress for the role would only have taken away from the problems of the character; more focus would have been on the actress herself instead of the character.

The Role of Language - Repost

I have seen this film several times, and each time I watch it I am struck by how prevalent Foucault’s discussion of the need for the “confessional? is: throughout the film various terms are ascribed to Brandon’s body, and yet, as opposed to the “truth? of “coming out (of naming oneself),? or the need to confess what one is, it’s the assumption that the body itself must be “the site of authenticity.? (Willox, 410) Throughout the film there are allusions to lesbianism, “dykes,? gender dysphoria, sex reassignment surgery, referring to Brandon as “she,? “it,? followed by the golden: “what the fuck are you?? Still, it is that need to know , to know the “truth? of Brandon’s body that sets up the dilemma of language in the film. While in theory it is easy (well, easier) to discuss the transgender body as an idea or concept as opposed to an actual embodied body, this film has a difficult task because Pierce is forced to contend with questions of gender while still visually representing a body to the audience. However, as Willox states, it is through using language that Pierce may in fact achieve that feeling of “never knowing,? as in a way this film is supposition because, “in the absence of Brandon himself, it is unclear exactly how Brandon experienced his gender identity, and how he reconciled this with his body.? (Willox, 414) Brandon’s gender identity is ambiguous as it is gleaned second-hand, and as Lana herself, possibly the primary source for the knowing of Brandon “claimed variously that ‘Brandon was a girl,’ and ‘Brandon didn’t need a sex change, he was always a man to me.’? (Ibid)
Hardly decisive, this sets up the quandary of how to potentially visualize a transgender body, a body that is in a sense politicized because it is a body defining itself outside of the parameters of the prescribed gender/sex corollary. Through language, Pierce attempts to posit the complexity of trans identity through both negation and assertion: Brandon states that he’s “not a dyke,? and at one point calls himself a “hermaphrodite,? having “both male and female parts,? shying away from sex reassignment surgery talks, and stating that he’s a “boy-girl.? This last example I think is the most charged, and in some, the most effective, calling into question the failure of language itself to describe the trans experience; Willox makes the comment that “the use of the term ‘boy,’ both here and within the title of the film, could help to underline the gender binary through excluding Brandon’s subject position as other.? (Willox, 419) The use of “boy-girl? also seems to suggest in some way that Brandon still thinks of himself in some as “girl,? and not only “boy? or “man.? Rather than focusing on the way language works to name Brandon’s position as “confused,? I prefer to think that the use of disparate descriptions of Brandon’s self-proclaimed gender, and of the violent desire to know , of the desire for the legible body, that it highlights the failure of linguistics – both in pronouns and classifications – to properly account for identities which defy categorization and classification, or which decide to leave it altogether. Why isn’t Brandon’s identity (I’d prefer to not use “performance? since I don’t know if Brandon thought of himself as transgender or genderqueer) perceived as “authentic,? or as “true?? Again, language will always fail when it is linked to the notion of the body as truth.

November 11, 2006

Swank as an "unknown" before she was known

I agree to the responses regarding Pierce casting “unknown? Swank as Brandon instead of a “big name? actress. Yet, for those who have never seen Boys Don’t Cry until this class, Swank is not an unknown. This film was released in 1999. For her role, Swank won an Oscar for best performance. This lead to Swank being named as People Magazines Most Beautiful People in 2000, 2004, and 2005. In 2004 she was in Million Dollar Baby in which she won another Oscar and a Golden Globe award. She’s hosted SNL and she and her ex/husband Chad Lowe are tabloid magazine fodder. Overall, she has lost her “unknown? status.
When I watched Boys Don’t Cry Swank was not an “unknown? actress in my perspective. I know there were a couple of instances that I thought to myself that she was doing an amazing job acting like a boy or wow, she really does look like a boy. Yet, it was hard in some aspects to not picture her with long wavy hair wearing a gorgeous dress, walking down the red carpet. I also realized that Swank doesn’t usually play the sexy starlet roles. She plays a man as Brandon, a boxer in Million Dollar Baby, and a detective in Insomnia. I found that really interesting and with that note, I do agree that Swank (as an “unknown? or not) was a better choice than other actresses, such as Roberts, who do tend to play feminized roles.

Filmmaker Responsibilities

Should Hollywood/narrative films/filmmakers/actors be responsible or accountable for the stories they tell?

I think that filmmakers and actors should be accountable for the stories they tell and how they choose to tell those stories. Boys Don’t Cry is based on a true story and it tells the story of a real person. Brandon Teena was a real person. He had friends, was loved, and loved others. It would be an injustice to portray him different than the way he was. It is important that the filmmaker and actor do their best to be truthful to the character of the person whose story they are attempting to tell.
I think that Kimberly Pierce and Hilary Swank both did a wonderful job of trying to stay true to Brandon’s story. Although they could not actually speak to Brandon to get his viewpoint, Pierce did interview friends of Brandon and other transgendered individuals to get many different perspectives on his life (Willox, 229). The world will never really know how Brandon defined himself, so I think that Pierce acted responsibly by leaving the two possible readings of Brandon’s identity open. Pierce explains that, “I wanted to make Brandon as realistic as he could be…I try to touch on gender in the way that I know Brandon touched on it throughout his life,? (Willox, 232). I think that the different possibilities of Brandon’s identity further one of the main points of the film and the lesson to be learned from Brandon's life and death. In the end, it does not really matter whether Brandon was transgendered or a lesbian, he was simply a person who wanted to love and be loved just like everyone else.

November 10, 2006

Response to Bodnia's Post

I agree with Elizabeth Bodnia's previous post, which states that casting a well-known actress, such as Julia Roberts, would distract the viewer and subtract from the portrayl of Brandon's character. Unfortunately, more attention would probably be paid, by reviewers and viewers alike, to someone like Roberts' physical transformation, rather than their use of acting nuances that really make up the character's portrayl.

For example, when Charlize Theron played Aileen Wuornos, I remember hearing more about her "remarkable transformation" -- the swan in reverse -- than by her portrayl of the real-life murderer she was modeling herself after. CNN wrote, in one piece "What everyone is talking about, though, is what’s most obvious on the screen, the incredible physical transformation she underwent. Theron gained between 25 and 30 pounds. She shaved her eyebrows. She even had prosthetic teeth in order to look more like Wuornos. " The same also happened with Demi Moore and Sigourney Weaver, when they each shaved their heads for roles (in GI Jane and Monster, respectively).

I also agree that Swank did a terrific job portraying Brandon. From her deepened voice (though not too deep) to the way she carried herself, Swank succeeded in blurring the line between male and female.

Casting Swank... the "unknown"

✢ What do you think about Pierce's directorial choices like casting "unknown" Swank instead of "big name" actor? What do you think about Swank's portrayal?

First of all, I have to say that this film was very difficult to watch. And, I’m pretty sure that the rest of the class felt the same way. One person even commented that they “needed a cigarette,? because it was so “intense.? Clearly, this is one of the many things that Pierce wanted us, as an audience, to take away from the film—an uneasiness, the shock of it all, etc. Accordingly, I believe that because this film involves an incredibly sensitive and very “taboo-like? topic—transgender, sexual identity crisis, etc.—casting someone like Julia Roberts, a “big name actor,? to play the role of Brandon would make the film seem too “HOLLYWOOD?—consequently, the money aspect would appear to be the most important part of the film. Even if Roberts looked exactly like Brandon, the film would just never have the same raw-like effect, because she would be too famous, and thus quite distracting—pulling audiences away from the story and the personal connection with an unknown (some average/ordinary/anonymous person like us). Therefore, I think that Pierce made the right decision to cast an unknown.
Personally, I thought that Swank did an amazing job. In a few interviews, Pierce even talks about how Swank got into the role by acting “like a sponge?—how she “drank Brandon in… his spirit.? Furthermore, Swank’s sharp facial features and skinny/somewhat muscular body type made her very masculine and really look like the real Brandon. Her acting was quite good as well. Swank could act like one of the boys, yet be very sensitive, emotional, and know what a woman wanted. Overall, I thought that the casting in general was quite extraordinary. Obviously, getting into the exceedingly disturbing and violent scenes is very hard to do. However, with the kind of chemistry they had on set, it really looked like the cast achieved those challenging levels of emotion.

November 9, 2006

Boys Don't Cry made me cry....

< Although I knew the story of Brandon (Teena) from previous courses, I wasn't prepared for how powerful the story would be visually through film. The film conveyed a new dimension of the story to me, and I was completely emotionally caught up in it. One thing that really stood out for me throughout the film was the struggle that Brandon went through and internalized. The scene depicting him having to buy feminine products was heart wrenching, I can't imagine what it would feel like to have my mind telling me I am one gender, and my body telling/showing me that I am another. The fear associated with being a transgendered person in society definitely shone through in the film as well. Having to hide the remnants of tampons, not appearing in court, and not wanting to tell Lana of his biological identity were just a few ways in which this was shown visually. There was a constant notion that at any moment the life that he knew could be shattered, and the people that he loved could become the people who could hurt him the most. Additionally shown was that Brandon’s fears were not out of cowardice...they were out of protection and self-preservation. Boys Don't Cry is a tribute to beautiful people that live behind their fear of being discovered by others who don't understand (and won't give acceptance and understanding a chance). It shares the story of someone strong enough to be the person that their heart tells them to be, and in the process finds a love that is gender-blind. Unfortunately, everyone in the world isn't as strong as people like Brandon were, and people hate out of fear. People hate because they don't understand and are scared. Gender is a performance done in society, and Brandon chose the gender that he associated with. If people could understand that gender is an option - and by breaking away from the norm you are assigned to is not deviant but amazing and courageous, then maybe people like Brandon would still be in the world today...making it a better place to be. >

Whitney's Post - Public Views

✢ Do films such as this, impact the public views on issues?

First and foremost, I would like to say that this was one of the most difficult films I have ever watched. When I left class on tuesday I could not get the film out of my head; no matter what I was doing, that film just kept making it's way into my head! It was aweful.
This, I think, is exactly the reaction Kimberly Pierce was hoping for from viewers: shock, horror, pity, sadness, empathy, an inability to forget and return to what once was. It is through these emotions that public views on such issues will change and progress. Currently our society chooses to shun these ideas and tendencies, to simply put them out of the public eye. Through this film, however, Pierce put the transgender issues on the forefront of Hollywood, forcing the audience and society to take notice. By telling the story from Brandon Teena's point of view - that of the victim - Pierce forced an unwilling society to take notice of Brandon's emotions, and to realize that he seems just as uncertain as the audience watching him. During the film the audience becomes attached to Brandon's character, whether consciously or not, and in the end finds themselves hoping that the story will turn out to be a happy one; that Brandon and Lana will go to Lincoln and live happily ever after. Obviously, however, this is not the case. As the audience leaves the theatre after seeing this film, one thing is different: his or her ideas. No matter how insensitive, how superior, or how conservative a person is, he or she acknowledges that what happened to Brandon Teena is wrong. And that is the first step in changing today's society.

November 8, 2006

Rachel L's Boys Don't Cry Response

Whether a story is told through documentary or film narrative, it can never be completely accurate. Brandon Teena’s life has been made into both. While a documentary has real life interviews, photos and is generally considered non-fiction, it is still a film. “The Brandon Teena Story? was made in 1998, a year before “Boys Don’t Cry.? The narrative film had more exposure and was more publicly viewed. Although the documentary had real footage of the real people involved in Brandon Teena’s life, I believe the narrative film had a much larger impact on audiences emotionally. Even if “Boys Don’t Cry? was not a completely accurate representation of events (For example, some of the real violence that went on in Brandon’s life was cut out) the changes were made to keep the audience interested in the story.
Kimberly Peirce explains in “Creative Filmmaking? that if all the violence was left in it would desensitize the viewer. Also, after screening the film, some audience members thought it had too much violence and it was getting too long so a substantial amount was cut out. Even if this was not completely accurate I believe that it was a warranted decision on Peirce’s part. Films, although they do not always have to end positive, need to have a story line and some “hope.? “If Boys Don’t Cry? had excessive amounts of violence, audience members maybe would not stay interested and engaged with the characters. When making a film based on real events, you have to be appealing to the audience, while trying to stay truthful. One of the most important things is that Brandon Teena’s story was revealed and now maybe more people have different views of gender identity crisis’ and hate crimes.

November 7, 2006

Small Town America

What story does this film tell about "small-town" America? American values? American life?

Kimberly Peirce’s film Boys Don’t Cry showed the tragic effects of “small-town? American life in the case of the young woman/man, Brandon Teena. The characters in the film were all of a low socioeconomic status and as Linda Dittmar described in her article, “Performing Gender in Boys Don’t Cry? all of the youth in the small town were of the working class. This is evident in the film when Teena’s girlfriend Lana is shown working in a large factory and the rest of the characters in the film are shown to live in trailers and old run down homes. Dittmar further explains this on page 147 of her article by quoting interviews done by reporters who interviewed the youth of Teena’s small town after the murders took place. “Certainly Boys Don’t Cry is about gender and homophobia, but it is also about social class and human aspirations. Brandon was ‘trailer trash,’ a gay high school acquaintance tells a reporter.? The story shows how in small town America every debatable issue of life is intensely magnified to extreme dangerous proportions. It was more dangerous for Teena to be a boy in a small town than in a large city because of the close-knit community and cultish type feel of small towns.

In Falls City where the film took place everyone knew everyone in the community and that sense of togetherness creates a type of small town pride. In the particular small town where the film was shot the people seemed to be coping alright with their S.E.S. and at times were really having a fun time. Teena and others riding on the back of a pick up truck by holding onto a rope is one of the film’s example of this. But with a low amount of income, mass consumptions of alcohol, and a general feeling of being trapped in the life they are living it is no wonder that small towns exhibit extremely violent acts against one who comes to their town and upsets their already shaky foundation of life. Dittmar explains this idea of targeting the ‘Other’ (Teena) perfectly on page 147 of her article. “Such Others end up targets of violence because it is hard for societies to accept difference, especially when what they fear threatens to expose their own fragility.? As I watched the film I noticed how even the smallest threat made from one person to another person in this small town blew up and made the issue larger than what it really was. The main example of this is the murder of Teena because of being ‘found out’ as being a member of a same sex relationship with Lana. Lana’s ex-boyfriend could have just let the issue go, but he was consumed by a rage that resulted in his torture and murder of Teena. In small town America, citizens I’m sure have most of the same values as citizens of a large city, but as stated earlier, being part of a low S.E.S small town magnifies and intensifies these issues to extreme violent proportions. Violence that can be turned against any person who becomes part of their community but does not share the same close-knit prejudice ‘values’ as the community as in the case of Brandon Teena entering the Falls City community.

Blog Post Assignment: Boys Don't Cry (2 points)

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On The Readings:

The weblinks (on our WebCT site) are crucial this week! Print the pdf files & READ! Remember big brother (no, call me big mama!) can see who visits each link and downloads off the site!


1. Intro from Creative Filmmaking (WS)
2. Excerpts on Kimberly Pierce's (the director's) creative process from Creative Filmmaking (WS)
3.Branding Teena: Misrepresentations... (CP)

* Be prepared to discuss the films and the readings in class next week! *

Assignment: Use one of the following questions as a spark to write your post about Boys Don't Cry. Please READ WHAT OTHERS HAVE WRITTEN and BUILD upon topics. Please DO NOT REPEAT someone else's point, but add to the conversation they have started. There are many prompts and many places you can go with your ideas. Really, the possiblities are limitless. This post is due by NOON on Nov. 13!

Using key moments from the film and some ideas generated in the assigned (and/or optional readings) on Boys Don't Cry, address (in a paragraph or two) one of the following questions or ideas generated by the question(s):

✢ What is the relationship between narrative storytelling, a "real" or "true" event, and documentary filmmaking? What changes were made to the actual events? Were the changes (in the filmic telling) warranted, deceptive, simply a choice?

✢ What does a narrative film do that maybe the documentary, The Teena Brandon Story, wasn't able to achieve (thinking: public attention, issue awareness, create an Oscar winner, etc...) What is/was at stake in (re)telling a true story?

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✢ Is Kimberly Pierce responsible for the story she tells? How and why? (think factual accuracy versus creative license, artistic accountability, ethics and responsibility)

✢ Should Hollywood/narrative films/filmmakers/actors be responsible or accountable for the stories they tell?

✢ Do films such as this, impact the public views on issues?

✢ What does Pierce achieve stylistically (think Director's palette)? Does this match her vision articulated in Creative Filmmaking text? How important is style? content? representation?

✢ What do you think about Pierce's directorial choices like casting "unknown" Swank instead of "big name" actor? What do you think about Swank's portrayal?

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✢ What is/was at stake in representing transgender issues? What was in the public about these issues before the film? How has the film impacted society's view on gender, violence, and the other issues presented in the film?

✢ What is the role of language in this issue (cross-dresser, transsexual, transgender, use of pronouns like he/she)? How does the film use language to tell this story?

✢ What does the film say about the body - gender performativity, binding, "passing", masculinity/femininity/androgyny, sexual ambiguity, identity transformation, violence, and intolerance... Does the film reinforce or complicate gender binaries?

✢ What story does this film tell about "small-town" America? American values? American life?

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