Director Kimberly Peirce recently visited Reed College in Portland, Oregon, for a special screening of her 1999 film, “Boys Don’t Cry,” and to engage in a Q&A with students. The filmmaker likely expected a low-key event where students inquired about her film, its effects, her career, and more.
Instead, Peirce was shouted over, harassed, and insulted in astonishing fashion. Students yelled a stream of obscenities at her — and posters were even hung that included such vile messages as, “You don’t f***ing get it” and “f*** your transphobia.” In the irony of all ironies, Peirce is a gender-fluid gay director who was at the college to present a film that told the true story of the brutal murder of a trans man named Brandon Teena — a biological woman who identified as a man and was killed for it.
Are these the kind of sentiments and contradictory positions students at Reed are paying $50,000 a year to foster? Even more shocking than the unacceptable behavior displayed in the face of a visiting artist were the reasons for the disgusting language and actions.
Students were incensed that the lead character in “Boys Don’t Cry” was not played by an actual trans person — the role was instead given to actress Hillary Swank, who went on to win an Academy Award for her performance. The students were also angry that the film seemingly profited from anti-trans violence.
“In recent screenings of the movie, some accompanied by Peirce as a speaker, others just programmed as part of a class or a film series, younger audiences have taken offense to the film and have accused the filmmaker of making money off the representation of violence against trans people,” wrote University of Southern California professor Jack Halberstam, who blogged about the abhorrent protests against Peirce at Bully Bloggers, posting pictures of the vulgar posters surrounding the director’s visit.
He continued, “The accounts given of these recent protests at Reed College give evidence of enormous vitriol, much of it blatantly misogynist … directed at a queer, butch filmmaker and they leave us with an enormous number of questions to face about representational dynamics, clashes between different historical paradigms of queer and transgender life and the expression of queer anger.”
To the school’s credit, Dean Nigel Nicholson condemned the behavior in a statement published in the school paper. “I was deeply embarrassed and ashamed of our conduct, and I hope that as a community we can reflect on what happened and make a determination not to repeat it.”
It’s not as if aggressive protests or anti-free speech sentiments are anything new to the modern college campus — but what is new and shocking here is the person to whom this was directed.
Right-leaning artists like Adam Carolla have had difficulty speaking on college campuses recently. The podcaster is even filming a documentary, “No Safe Spaces,” that takes a look into the phenomenon of safe spaces and the limited free speech promoted within modern-day universities. His first speaking event for the movie was ironically cancelled by California State University Northridge — allegedly because the school feared protests and took issue with Carolla’s content.
The treatment of people like Carolla displays that many modern campuses don’t want speech from the Right. However, the vitriolic treatment of Peirce means they may not want any sort of speech at all.
Their points about the film “Boys Don’t Cry” are absurd. The film was made back in 1999 — a year in which there was little-to-no national talk about trans people. It was likely hard enough to get the movie financed. It would have been next to impossible to convince a studio then to lead a film with an actual trans actor.
And profiting off violence? It’s a film that displayed actual events and made a larger point that liberal students would seem ready and willing to get behind. And, as an independent film, no one is likely rich from a film like “Cry.” And, if they are — so what?
The thinking is so out of sync with everyday life that it will be astonishing to see people like this enter the world beyond the college campus bubble. If you can’t handle speech you don’t agree with — or hurl insults at a filmmaker for telling a story — how are you going to function in a society and pay bills, foster good relationships, raise a family, and be a functioning member of a community?
There are no safe spaces in the real world. And throwing hateful insults, like the ones displayed here, at a human being will downright land you in jail or, at the very least, leave you with some serious consequences — even if you do identify yourself as a liberal fighting for “social justice.”