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Top Ten: Influential Female Film Characters - Brandon, Boys Don't Cry (1991)

July 3, 2017

When I decided to launch my blog with a series that investigated a ‘Top Ten’ in influential female film characters, there were some specific characters that instantly came to mind. These characters aren’t necessarily the women and girls of films, which have celebrated huge success as part of a box office smash but a rich and diverse selection from films that have proved the most memorable and captivating, across my time as a film obsessive.


I feel that, to create a character that is influential, it must succeed in delivering a message or evoking emotion and challenge specific boundaries, whilst remaining selfish and true in its portrayal. In light of this, I felt that it was essential that I included the next person as one of the most influential, female film characters – despite the fact that this ‘character’ is real and should be recognized, more specifically as an ‘influential person’. Now, before I proceed I understand that this should be approached with some air of caution but I wanted to consider how not all representations of ‘women’ are strictly conventional, as film most often, mirrors life…


Hilary Swank was awarded the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1991, following her breakthrough performance as Brandon Teena in 'Boys Don't Cry' 


When I was studying in my first year of university, more years ago than I like to think, I watched Kimberley Pierce’s, unforgettable biopic ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ (1999). Unfortunately, up until that point I had no idea about the real-life context of the movie or about Brandon Teena’s prominence in US history. The film was a real shock to the system, a devastatingly dark narrative which followed the enduring portrayal of a trans teen and his struggle with identity, poverty and homelessness. These gritty themes, which also reference the untenable social and political constructs of gender and sexuality at that time, are all brutally bestowed in an unflinching screenplay, embellished by Hilary Swank’s monumental performance.


Captivated by the harrowing headlines which swept the US in 1993, Pierce invested years of research into the life of Brandon Teena before the completion of the first screenplay of ‘Boys Don’t Cry’. Her meticulous analysis into every area of Teena’s identity and expression, were used to form an authentic portrait of a young man who, despite frustration and social isolation, meets this prejudice with profound bravery and faith.


Chloe Sevigny & Hilary Swank as Lana Tisdel & Brandon Teena in 'Boys Don't Cry' (1999)


Although, initially met by conflicting critical reception, it’s controversial content matter and radical representation of trans-masculine themes, provided a catalyst for ‘new queer cinema’ and independent films. More than 20 years after the true-life events, we’re able to understand and appreciate the defiant constructs of Brandon Teena’s exceptional character, acumen to his uncompromising identity – with a richer apprehension of how ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ has honored his legacy and prominence as an icon in the LGBT community and a raw advocate in the confrontation of rape culture and hate crime. 


As I discussed at the start of the post, to be influential within film does not necessarily mean a success at the box office and four-movie franchise. To be influential is to deliver a message with pride and compassion. The organic character and qualities of Brandon Teena, have not been forged in a clever pre-production process, he’s not been shaped for on-screen engagement and commercial success but created in isolation with the world on his shoulders and a lone dream to be himself. It is the collaboration between Kimberley Pierce and Hilary Swank, which have ensured that, despite tragedy, Brandon Teena has been able to deliver his message to an audience and ensure that his story will always be heard and through 'Boys Don't Cry', Brandon will always remain an influential character – strong, passionate and true to himself, regardless of gender binaries. 

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© The Five Dollar Shake by Casey Bernice Shaw

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