The background to a triple homicide committed on New Year’s Eve 1993 in a small Nebraska town is explored in depth in this probing, powerful documentary. “The Brandon Teena Story” is a study of the banality of evil based on deep-seated prejudices. Only the poor standard of the video-to-film transfer will prevent the pic from securing select theatrical bookings, but it should play successfully on quality TV nets.
Brandon Teena was born a girl, Teena Brandon, in Lincoln, Neb. When Teena decided her sexual orientation was male, she changed her name and underwent surgery to remove her breasts. As Brandon, he started dating girls, some of whom are interviewed and testify to the fact that he was a thoughtful and generous partner and a good kisser. One remarks that “it was nice to be treated like a lady.”
At the beginning of December 1993, the 20-year-old Brandon left his home and moved to nearby Falls City, where he soon started dating a young woman. Before long, however, he was arrested for passing a forged check, and was charged under his real name. The revelation of the true gender of a man they’d accepted as one of them outraged a couple of macho locals, who attacked Brandon on Christmas Eve, beating and raping him.
Brandon filed a complaint for rape and assault, but, on New Year’s Eve, was found shot dead along with two other people in the house where he was staying. The rapists were convicted for the killings (each accused the other, and one is now on death row while the other is serving a life sentence for his crime).
Pic is composed mostly of interviews with people who knew Brandon. These include his mother and sister, the girl he dated in Falls City, her mother and the two convicted killers. Also incorporated into the drama are recordings of court proceedings and an interview with a deputy sheriff, plus TV news coverage of the events. With all this, pic’s few brief enacted scenes are unnecessary.
One of the most disturbing segments of the film is the recording of an interview in which, after Brandon’s rape, he was quizzed by Falls City’s sheriff, whose prejudice against homosexuality and transsexuality is evident throughout the exchange. Dealing with a youth who has just undergone an extremely traumatic experience, the law officer shows scant sympathy or insight into Brandon’s plight.
Brandon’s story is that of a gentle character whose sexuality makes him a target of redneck intolerance and violence in a peaceful but conservative middle American community. The tragic events are potently described via the various witnesses, and filmmakers Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir have done a fine job of exploring a terrible tragedy.