'Boys Don't Cry' Director Kimberly Peirce on Orlando Massacre: "Every Killing of a Queer Person Matters"

Woman in Film Kimberly Peirce Getty H 2016
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for InStyle

Filmmaker Kimberly Peirce made her directorial debut with the Hilary Swank-starrer Boys Don't Cry, released by Fox Searchlight in 1999. The film, inspired by real-life events, followed the story of trans man Brandon Teena, who was gunned down in a hate crime in Nebraska on Dec. 31, 1993.

When 49 people were killed in the Pulse nightclub mass shooting on June 12, the result of a hate crime at the hands of Omar Mateen, Peirce was understandably devastated upon hearing of another attack on the LBGT community, one that now ranks as the worst shooting in U.S. history. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Peirce at Women in Film's Crystal+Lucy Awards on June 15 to talk about her reaction and what Hollywood can do to help. 

How are you feeling about what happened in Orlando? What have your conversations been like with friends and/or people in the community?

I went to the dyke picnic on Saturday [Dyke Day L.A.]. Afterward, I went to my friend Jack Halberstam's house. He's a professor who wrote Female Masculinity. We had a beautiful dinner and a bunch of friends went out to Akbar in my neighborhood. It’s usually a gay male bar. I went and it was all lesbians, and I loved it. We had so many friends there and the girls kept going to the other room to dance. We were so happy. We hung out on Sunset [Boulevard] until late, and we were happy. I went home, and the tragedy hit me like a ton of bricks, and I have not recovered. I could not believe that those people were doing the very same thing that we were doing, the very same thing that we fought for. The very same thing that we have been abused for and killed for for years. The amount of homophobia that is out there in the world right now and that is being allowed and that is being encouraged — whether it’s [Donald] Trump, whether it’s these legislators, the time for homophobia is over. It needs to stop. Hate speech needs to stop. Hate speech causes hate crimes.

What is your reaction to the fact that [Mateen] could buy a gun to carry out such an attack?

He lived in a culture where he could get a weapon of mass destruction. That is what an assault rifle is — it's a weapon of mass destruction. It is meant to kill many, many people. There is no role for a weapon of mass destruction on our streets. There is no role for any person to be able to buy that, certainly a person who is being tracked by the FBI. Any execution of any innocent person is wrong — its not worse that they were gay and happy and dancing — but it just shows you how harmless we are. I am devastated, and I am insisting on change. We have to stop homophobia. I am tired of hetero-normativity being the good and homosexuality being the bad or the weird or odd. It’s over. Stop it. It should not be in our public forums. Once you start to address that, mental health issues, the masculinity crisis and get weapons off the street is when you start to make a dent.

What can Hollywood do?

This is something that I say humbly, given that it's what I try to do with my work. I believe that you don’t point the finger and say that it was this or it was that. What I did with Boys Don’t Cry was I checked in with my humility and I said that I cannot stand that somebody as beautiful as Brandon Teena, who had the courage to invent himself, was destroyed. I went to the murder town. I interviewed Lana [Tisdel]. I interviewed the mother. I went and interviewed the court reporter. We need to get underneath the story and the character and understand why this is happening. We need to tell compassionate, deeply human, deeply real stories about these events and bring audiences in so audiences can see a reflection of themselves in these characters and in these events, so that they can say, "I don’t want to live in a world where this happens." It can’t be a gay problem. It has to be our problem – all of our problem. Orlando matters. Every killing of a person of color matters. Every killing of a queer person matters. These killings are out of control.