The Dichotomy of Fact and Fiction in "The Teena Brandon Story" and "Boys Don't Cry"

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The exploration of real-life events through the cinematic lens involves a delicate balance between fact and fiction. This essay delves into the distinction between documentary and docudrama, focusing on the portrayal of the tragic story of Teena Brandon, a transgender individual whose life ended in a brutal murder. Specifically, we examine the differences between the documentary "The Teena Brandon Story" and the docudrama "Boys Don't Cry," shedding light on the choices made in presenting information to the public and catering to entertainment preferences.

The Teena Brandon Story: Unveiling the Truth

"The Teena Brandon Story," directed by Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir, is a documentary that meticulously reconstructs the life and death of Brandon Teena (Teena Ray Brandon), a transgender person murdered in 1993 in Falls City, Nebraska. Through interviews, recorded interrogations, and trial transcripts, the documentary provides a comprehensive view of Brandon's identity and the events leading to the tragic incident. It includes police tapes, photographs, and file film footage, offering a raw and unfiltered perspective on the life of a transgender individual and the aftermath of their murder.

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The documentary explores the intricate layers of Brandon's life, delving into personal accounts from individuals who both loved and hated Brandon for his difference. The recorded interrogation and trial transcripts add a legal dimension to the narrative, revealing societal attitudes towards Brandon's identity. His girlfriends' testimonies portray him as an empathetic and understanding partner, challenging stereotypes associated with transgender individuals.

Boys Don't Cry: The Docudrama Dilemma

On the other hand, "Boys Don't Cry," directed by Kimberly Peirce, is a docudrama based on the same real-life events surrounding Brandon Teena.

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Set in the small town of Falls City, Nebraska, the film introduces Brandon as the charismatic newcomer, navigating the challenges of concealing his true identity. The narrative takes a dramatic turn when Brandon's biological gender is revealed, leading to a violent and tragic end. Despite its claim to be based on actual events, the docudrama takes creative liberties, framing the story for cinematic impact.

While both "The Teena Brandon Story" and "Boys Don't Cry" received Academy Awards, the latter raises questions about the portrayal of historical truths in pursuit of narrative drama. The film emphasizes the traumatic aspects of the story, shaping it into a narrative centered around Brandon's personal struggles and the community's harsh response.

Narrative Focus: Trauma vs. Community

“Boys Don’t Cry” leans heavily into the traumatic aspects of Brandon Teena’s life and murder, placing a strong emphasis on personal trauma. The community's hostile reaction to Brandon's revelation takes center stage, portraying a narrative that underscores the consequences of prejudice and discrimination. On the contrary, "The Teena Brandon Story" prioritizes the community's dynamics, presenting a broader view of how society perceived and reacted to Brandon's identity. It explores the intersections of gender identity, sexuality, and the community's response to differences.

The divergence in focus highlights the inherent distinction between a narrative-driven docudrama and a documentary seeking to present a comprehensive analysis of historical events. "Boys Don't Cry" dramatizes Brandon's personal journey, turning it into a tragic love story with heightened emotional impact, while "The Teena Brandon Story" remains committed to revealing the broader social implications of Brandon's life and death.

Legal and Ethical Considerations

The ethical implications of storytelling come to the forefront when examining the legal repercussions faced by both productions. In the case of "Boys Don't Cry," the narrative was subject to a lawsuit for slander due to its negative portrayal of real individuals. The film, despite claiming to be based on factual events, took liberties in character portrayal that resulted in legal consequences. This raises questions about the responsibility of docudramas in handling real people's lives and the potential consequences of fictionalizing elements for dramatic effect.

While artistic freedom is crucial in filmmaking, the ethical responsibilities of accurately representing individuals and events become paramount, especially when dealing with sensitive topics like gender identity and violence. The lawsuit against "Boys Don't Cry" underscores the challenges filmmakers face in balancing creative expression with ethical considerations.

Expanding the Narrative: Missed Details

An intriguing disparity arises when comparing the number of victims in the actual event to their representation in the film. "Boys Don't Cry" chooses to focus on the double murder of Brandon Teena and Lisa Lambert, omitting the third victim, Phillip Devine. This oversight diminishes the full extent of the tragedy and raises concerns about selective storytelling for dramatic impact. In contrast, "The Teena Brandon Story" maintains accuracy by including all victims and offering a more holistic perspective on the crime.

The film's romanticized portrayal of Brandon's relationship with Lana Tisdel and its decision to omit certain historical facts contribute to a narrative that, while emotionally resonant, deviates from the reality documented in the original events. This intentional shaping of the story for entertainment purposes challenges the integrity of docudramas as faithful representations of historical truths.


In conclusion, the comparison between "The Teena Brandon Story" and "Boys Don't Cry" underscores the challenges of navigating the fine line between fact and fiction in cinematic storytelling. While both mediums contribute to the public's understanding of historical events, their differing approaches raise critical questions about ethical considerations, narrative focus, and the responsibilities of filmmakers in presenting real-life tragedies. "Boys Don't Cry" serves as a poignant reminder of the impact of creative liberties on the integrity of a narrative, urging viewers to approach docudramas with a discerning eye and an awareness of the complexities involved in translating truth into entertainment.

Updated: Dec 15, 2023
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The Dichotomy of Fact and Fiction in "The Teena Brandon Story" and "Boys Don't Cry". (2016, May 10). Retrieved from

The Dichotomy of Fact and Fiction in "The Teena Brandon Story" and "Boys Don't Cry" essay
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