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Kimberly Peirce talks 'Boys Don't Cry,''Carrie,' bullying
CHICAGO HUMANITIES FESTIVAL Extended for the online edition of Windy City Times
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

This article shared 5180 times since Mon Nov 4, 2013
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Kimberly Peirce directed and wrote her first film, Boys Don't Cry, to huge acclaim, earning Hilary Swank an Oscar for Best Actress and Chloe Sevigny a nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The story of transgender individual Brandon Teena being murdered in Nebraska touched many people, making the movie a huge success.

Peirce followed it with Stop-Loss, a portrait inspired by her brother about Iraq War veterans. Her Carrie remake, with Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore, had people talking and jumping out of their seats this past October.

As part of the Chicago Humanities Festival, Peirce, a University of Chicago alumna, will be joined in conversation with WBEZ's Alison Cuddy to discuss her career and female directors in the business as part of the annual Karla Scherer Endowed Lecture Series in partnership with Center on Halsted.

Windy City Times spoke to Peirce before her arrival about Boys Don't Cry, Carrie, and cyborgs.

Windy City Times: Hi, Kim. You are now returning to Chicago after studying here years ago...

Kimberly Peirce: First of all, I love Chicago. I went to undergrad there at University of Chicago. There are a lot of great professors. I left for Japan then I came back and finished there. My fiance recently taught at Northwestern. It is a city that I absolutely love so I am thrilled to be coming back.

WCT: Did going to school here lead to a film career?

Kimberly Peirce: I think it actually did. I studied photography, history and literature. It did lead me to being a film director, so in many ways being in Chicago was great. Being there was really valuable. People have asked me that since University of Chicago is not a traditional art school did I learn anything about directing but the strong education I received is very vital to everything that I do. I think it is a great training ground.

WCT: Did you ever imagine Boys Don't Cry would be a huge film?

Kimberly Peirce: No. I fell madly in love with the story of Brandon Teena when I was just a kid in grad school. I read the article in the middle of the night at my job. I loved the story and decided I had to make a film about it. I got to know a group of transexuals called Transexual Menace. They were traveling together to the murder town to go to the trail. I wanted to get to know them and hear their point of view. I filmed them for some time. I got their perspective and interviewed butch lesbians, the court reporter, and everybody there just to make a short film. As I was making it became very clear how it is such a great story to feature. I was beyond my means at that point because it was the first year at grad school. I just held onto that dream. I took it through Columbia University, then was invited to Sundance. I loved the story and never imagined that it would be as successful as it was.

WCT: So then it slowly grew into a bigger project. How was that experience?

Kimberly Peirce: In retrospect, I treated like it would be something special but you can't count on that. You give it your all and make it as good as you can then protect it. I do feel if you put a lot of thought into your work then it holds value and attracts other people. At the end of the day it really is a collection of tons of people.

WCT: Issues of transgender people must have evolved while you were working on the film.

Kimberly Peirce: Absolutely. The film helped find a better way for the culture to talk about transexuality. Part of the problem with Boys Don't Cry was people would say, "Brandon pretended to be a boy and she was raped and killed" so the way people told the story blamed Brandon, not that this was a person who was living as who they thought they were.

When I was at the Oscars I was being interviewed by Joan Rivers and she asked how I cast the movie. I explained how I found Hilary. She said, "Oh a woman who lived as a man." It was really great to be in that very public arena because we were creating the correct language for transgender people to be seen as who they are.

You might think it is just language and not that important but it is very important because when you don't identify someone in the terms they want to be identified in then you are robbing them of the ability to be acknowledged accurately. Simply by listening to people and learning how they want to be identified gives them a level of authenticity and space to be who they are. I was able to reflect Brandon accurately by listening to other people.

WCT: What do you think about things changing every day for transgender people around the world publicly?

Kimberly Peirce: I can't speak of society as a whole but there are definitely pockets of more acceptance and more recognition. I think we are seeing transgender being referred to more accurately in mainstream media. It is less of an unknown unexplored territory. Even in the queer community there was more of a divide. It used to be "gay," then "gay and lesbian," then it was "LGBTQ." The umbrella of possibilities has widened. Even the queer community itself didn't put a binary of either you are a gay man or a lesbian woman. So now I feel like the queer movement is more inclusive and specific.

WCT: I just saw Carrie last weekend.

Kimberly Peirce: Oh, good!

WCT: What made you want to update the past film?

Kimberly Peirce: They came to me and I had the same question that everybody has: "Should I revisit this novel?" I spoke to [original director Brian] DePalma and he gave me his blessing. We are friends so he was open to it. I looked deeply at the novel and I was really transfixed with what a fantastic character Carrie White is, the misfit who wants love and acceptance at school. She has a horrible time getting it at school and at home. Her mother absolutely loves her but because she is terrified of life and sexuality her mother has created her own religion. She beats herself and her daughter. She is mentally ill and a conflicted woman. It was revelatory to me that Carrie discovered these superpowers.

WCT: Carrie always has that look—like she just might make it.

Kimberly Peirce: Those powers she has almost give her a second chance about being okay in the world. It's almost like a person understanding, "Oh, I am queer" or "Oh I have this talent and I'm a musician." You go from being unaccepted and unacceptable to find a possibility in life. For some time in the movie she is okay. The complication is the possibility of love and acceptance by the boy. She buys into what we all buy into to try it again and maybe it will work. She wants that Cinderella moment like we all do. We go to the prom and celebrate with her. I just love that it all explodes! To me that meant a boiling cauldron of drama.

When I read the novel again it was undeniable that this was a story I wanted to tell. It had been told before and maybe that is a reason not to tell it but for me it was he did it 40 years ago and did a great job but I loved the story and I want to tell it again.

WCT: There were several changes throughout the film.

Kimberly Peirce: I amplified the mother/daughter story. I added that new scene with Margaret giving birth at the beginning, which to me is the heart and soul of the movie. It takes you in that love story and that feud. I was very passionate about that. I went to Julianne Moore and asked if we should put it in. I wrote it up and we got to shoot it. I changed the climax that is really a fight to the death giving Carrie power again.

I really tried to amplify what we call the "culprit narrative" where you identify with her at the beginning with the grief over Tommy Ross falling that her powers come out then she goes after the people that did this to her. She is getting the culprits.

WCT: Talk a bit about the modernization of the remake.

Kimberly Peirce: We love a revenge story. We love right and wrong and justice. I thought that was something I could really turn up the heat on but I could modernize it. I put in cell phones where kids use to film themselves, and we all do, upload then download it. For better or worse everything is more amplified when you share something with millions of people.

WCT: There is such a different perspective on bullying now.

Kimberly Peirce: They is. Bullying is in the news every week. There is always another case of bullying. We are just now seeing the tragic effects on the kids that are now going through it. There has always been a lot of bullying going on in our culture at the corporate level but this is a moment where we are seeing it at this age group a lot and it is having devastating effects. This was undeniable to me. This story is more relevant now then even when he wrote it. It was like he was seeing into the future.

WCT: I heard Stephen King threw the book into the trash can originally and his wife saved it.

Kimberly Peirce: Yes; that was in his book Danse Macabre. He didn't like Carrie and didn't believe Sue but his wife fished it out of the garbage can because she loved it. It is great because the people in the story are afraid and freaked out by Carrie—even Stephen King is, and so are we. She is an odd character but ya love her!

WCT: You have a new movie in the works, I heard.

Kimberly Peirce: I can't tell too much but it is inspired by a personal story. It is set five minutes in the future. There is a cyborg in it, an artificial intelligence. I am very interested in creating a human mind and where we are going with the augmentation of the human body that is happening now. I think it is stunning where we are at.

WCT: There is no title yet?

Kimberly Peirce: No, but right now it is called Cyborg, and that is as much as I can say. It has been a real blast working on that and getting inside those issues.

I am probably going to do a pilot in January also.

WCT: What is the focus for the Humanities Festival appearance?

Kimberly Peirce: I think it's just a general discussion about my work. We will get into issues of directing and the humanitarian issues that I deal with. I look at physical violence and aspirations. Certainly, each of my movies deals with underdogs who are trying to survive or trying to get their needs met. I do dovetail into social issues of gender, queer issues and bullying. I have dealt with violence and soldiers in Stop-Loss with our freedoms. Carrie dealt with revenge, right and wrong as well as justice.

I am always looking as deeply as I can into human needs, the difficulties of surviving and how people relate to one another.

Don't miss Peirce's appearance on Saturday, Nov. 9, at 5 p.m. at 2233 N. Clark St. in the Diane and David B. Heller Auditorium.

Visit for details about the rest of the Chicago Humanities Festival. Tickets may be purchase on the website or by calling the box office at 312-494-9509. Teachers and students do receive a discount with valid ID.

This article shared 5180 times since Mon Nov 4, 2013
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