"The Brandon Teena Story" is a gripping documentary about how one person's search for acceptance and identity in a small Mid-Western town ignited a murderous rampage.
The true story behind the critically acclaimed feature film "Boy's Don't Cry" "The Brandon Teena Story" is a gripping documentary about how one person's search for acceptance and identity in a small Mid-Western town ignited a murderous rampage.
When 20-year-old Brandon arrived in rural Falls City, Nebraska, in 1993, his handsome looks and boyish charm won him several friends and even a pretty young girlfriend. But only three weeks later, Brandon was brutally raped and beaten by two of his friends, who became enraged when they discovered he was actually a woman. A week later, on a bitter cold New Year's Eve night, the same two men burst into a Humboldt farmhouse and murdered Brandon, along with a young mother and a man with whom he had sought refuge.
"The Brandon Teena Story" examines the events leading up to the heartland killing spree that ended three lives and shattered many more. Set against the harsh beauty of southeastern Nebraska, and told through the stories and voices of those involved, the film reveals how homophobia coupled with jealousy and hatred led to homicidal rage.
Gone Too Soon
The Brandon Teena Story
By Michele Kort
Most of us are familiar with the basic facts: A young Nebraska woman confused about her gender identity changes her name from Teena Brandon to Brandon Tenna and begins living as a man. A courtly pretty-boy, Brandon has little problem finding female lovers ("I have no idea why it worked so well," said one girlfriend of their sex life). But after Brandon is arrested for forging a check, it is revealed that he is biologically female, and all hell breaks loose. Two former friends rape him, and after he reports both men, they murder him.
In their powerful debut-feature documentary, The Brandon Teena Story, filmmakers Gréta Ølafsdóttir and Susan Muska venture out to the prairies, cowboy bars, and demolition derbies of the Nebraska heartland. They discover Brandon, just 21 when he died, to be a love-hungry figure with few apparent options. When his cross-gender ruse is discovered in his hometown of Lincoln, one hopes he'd have hitchhiked to the more welcoming environs of San Francisco. Instead, he ventures just 50 miles down the highway to Falls City, population 4,769, a town described by one resident as a place where a gay person "would be escorted out of town."
It's not surprising, then, that homophobia led to murder. Ex-cons Thomas Nissen and John Lotter couldn't tolerate having accepted this person as a Man -- especially one who had had sex with a woman they knew. They had to defile him, then kill him, to deal with their own anger and embarrassment.
Even the local county sheriff humiliates Brandon in a post-rape interview, then takes a week to arrest the perpetrators -- after they've murdered Brandon and two others. As in Arthur Dong's documentary "Licensed to Kill", about murderers of gay men, this film's strongest indictment is against society's giving "license" to such homophobic rage.
Ølafsdóttir, a photographer by trade, and Muska, who boasts a master's in anthropology, could have included more details about the events leading up to the killing, but otherwise they artfully re-create the milieu that fostered such violence. Most important, they restore to Brandon Tenna a rightful human face.