Re-examining relevancy of queer film Boys Don’t Cry

Sarah Buchmann

Hilary Swank won an Academy Award for her performance in Boys Don’t Cry.

For Professor Robey’s course, Reading Queer / Thinking Queer, we were required to watch the film Boys Don’t Cry as it celebrates its 20th anniversary. 

While Boys Don’t Cry was considered to be “groundbreaking” when it came out in 1999, the same may not be said if it was released today. 

The film is a dramatization of the real life rape and murder of transgender man Brandon Teena in rural Missouri. 

The story centers on a young man on the run, trying to keep up his male appearance and falling in love with a woman. 

She accepts Brandon as he is, but her friends and family do not; Brandon and the woman he seeks refuge with are shot and killed after Brandon is brutally raped. 

Brandon’s story is one of importance for many reasons: Boys Don’t Cry was one of the first films to portray a transgender man, and accurately at that. 

Trans men are often skipped over and ignored in the media, whereas trans women are exploited as crossdressers or drag queens before being acknowledged as genderqueer. 

 “In today’s current society the film would be discouraged for several reasons.”

In today’s current society, the film would be discouraged for several reasons. 

This might be old news, but Scarlett Johansson was cast to play a transgender man in an upcoming film. 

Johansson received a lot of backlash for the role and ultimately backed out. 

Ultimately, people were upset because Johansson is not a transgender man nor does she identify with the LGBT+ community and as such would be a misrepresentation of the character’s life. 

Hilary Swank, who portrayed transgender man Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry, would presumably recieve the same kind of response if the film came out today.

The film’s graphic depictions of rape and self harm would get a negative response from the public. 

I had an incredibly difficult time watching the film because of those scenes. 

In several instances I had to stop the movie several times and come back to it over the course of a few days. 

While there was no visual of self harm, one character takes out his dagger and holds it out to Brandon, offering for Brandon to cut himself. 

This character says that he could always go deeper than one of his cellmates in jail, making the cellmate a “pussy.” 

The scene in which Brandon is raped was also brutally graphic and painful to watch and listen to. 

With the response that the popular television show 13 Reasons Why received regarding the intense scene of the main character committing suicide, along with another scarring rape scene, 

I would say that Boys Don’t Cry would absolutely be targeted for what it shows on the screen if it were to be released today. 

Boys Don’t Cry was the start of many LGBT+ inclusive movies that certainly did well in its day, but unfortunately the choices made for the film have not aged well over the past 20 years. 

Professor Robey did include a trigger warning before assigning the movie for class, but it was still incredibly difficult to watch. 

While the movie shows a beautiful story and brings to life Brandon Teena’s experiences, there is better media that documents tragedies in the LGBT+ community. 

For instance, The Laramie Project is a play that is written entirely from interviews about the killing of Matthew Sheperd, another member of the queer community who was brutally murdered. 

This play is factual and heartbreaking, much like Boys Don’t Cry, but is a good alternative for those who find the subjects in Boys Don’t Cry to be too difficult to watch. standing what can be recycled.