Boys Don't Cry is a 1999 American biographical film directed by Kimberly Peirce, and co-written by Peirce and Andy Bienen. The film is a dramatization of the real-life story of Brandon Teena (played in the film by Hilary Swank), an American trans man who attempts to find himself and love in Nebraska but falls victim to a brutal hate crime perpetrated by two male acquaintances. The film co-stars Chloë Sevigny as Teena's girlfriend, Lana Tisdel.
After reading about the case while in college, Peirce conducted extensive research for a screenplay, which she worked on for almost five years. The film focuses on the relationship between Brandon and Lana. The script took dialogue directly from archive footage in the 1998 documentary The Brandon Teena Story. Many actors sought the lead role during a three-year casting process before Swank was cast. Swank was chosen because her personality seemed similar to Teena's. Most of the film's characters were based on real-life people; others were composites.
Filming occurred during October and November 1998 in the Dallas, Texas area. The producers initially wanted to film in Falls City, Nebraska, where the real-life events had taken place; however, budget constraints meant that principal photography had to occur in Texas. The film's cinematography uses dim and artificial lighting throughout and was influenced by a variety of styles, including neorealism and the films of Martin Scorsese, while the soundtrack consisted primarily of country, blues, and rock music. The film's themes include the nature of romantic and platonic relationships, the causes of violence against LGBT people, especially transgender people, and the relationship among social class, race, and gender.
The film premiered at the New York Film Festival on October 8, 1999, before appearing at various other film festivals. Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures, the film received a limited release in the United States on October 22, 1999, and it performed well at the North American box office, gaining three times its production budget by May 2000. The film was acclaimed by critics, with many ranking it as one of the best films of the year; praise focused on the lead performances by Swank and Sevigny as well as the film's depiction of its subject matter. However, some people who had been involved with Brandon in real life criticized the film for not portraying the events accurately.
Boys Don't Cry was nominated for multiple awards; at the 72nd Academy Awards in 2000, Swank was awarded the Academy Award for Best Actress and Sevigny was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. The pair were also nominated at the 57th Golden Globe Awards, with Swank winning the Best Actress – Drama award. Boys Don't Cry, which dealt with controversial issues, was initially assigned an NC-17 rating but was later reclassified to an R rating. It was released on home video in September 2000.
In 2019, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Plot[edit | edit source]
Brandon Teena is a young trans man whose birth name was Teena Renae Brandon. When Brandon is discovered to be transgender by a former girlfriend's brother, he receives death threats. Soon after, he is involved in a bar fight and is evicted from his cousin's trailer. Brandon moves to Falls City, Nebraska, where he befriends ex-convicts John Lotter and Tom Nissen, and their friends Candace and Lana Tisdel. Brandon becomes romantically involved with Lana, who is initially unaware both of his actual anatomy and his troubled past. The two make plans to move to Memphis, where Brandon will manage Lana's karaoke singing career. Eventually, they kiss during a date night which ends with them having s*x.
The police detain Brandon on charges that arose prior to his relocation; they place him in the women's section of the Falls City prison. Lana bails Brandon out and asks why he was placed in a women's prison. Brandon attempts to lie to her, saying he was born a hermaphrodite and will soon receive g*nital reconstruction surgery, but Lana stops him, declaring her love for Brandon regardless of his gender. However, while Brandon is in prison, Candace finds a number of documents listing Brandon's birth name, Teena Brandon, and she and her friends react to this news with shock and disgust. They enter Brandon's room, search among Brandon's things, and discover some transgender literature that confirms their suspicions. Tom and John violently confront Brandon, forcing him to remove his pants and reveal his g*nitals. They try to make Lana look, but she shields her eyes and turns away. After this confrontation, Tom and John drag Brandon into John's car and drive to an isolated location, where they brutally beat and gang r*pe him.
Afterwards, they take Brandon to Tom's house. Though injured, Brandon escapes through a bathroom window. Although his assailants threaten Brandon and warn him not to report the attack to the police, Lana persuades him to do so. However, the police chief proves to be less concerned with the crime than with Brandon's "s*xual identity crisis."
Later, John and Tom get drunk and drive to Candace's house. Lana attempts to stop them, but they find Brandon, who has been hiding in a nearby shed. John shoots Brandon under the chin, killing him instantly. While Candace is crying out to them to spare her baby, Tom shoots her in the head as Lana fights with them, begging them to stop. Tom stabs Brandon's lifeless body. John and Tom flee the scene while a crying Lana lies with Brandon's body and the baby toddles through the open door to the outside, crying. The next morning, Lana awakens next to Brandon's corpse. Her mother arrives and takes her away from the scene. As Lana leaves Falls City, a letter Brandon wrote to her is heard in a voiceover.