October 21, 2011

Alum film director Kimberly Peirce speaks on cinema controversy

Darren Leow / The Chicago Maroon

Returning to her alma mater to engage students in the arts, Kimberly Peirce (A.B. ’90), director of the movies Boys Don’t Cry and Stop-Loss, discussed her passion for film and and her experiences in the movie industry in a discussion with her former professor, Lauren Berlant.

“I didn’t know what I was in for,” Peirce said, recalling her first class with Berlant, the George M. Pullman Professor of English. Peirce noted that discussions in Berlant’s class influenced her film Boys Don’t Cry, based on the true story of transgender man Brandon Teena, who was murdered in 1993 in Nebraska.

“I learned so much about critical thinking and theory and history here,” said Peirce. “It’s amazing when people introduce to you what’s possible, [and] Lauren gave me a whole landscape of possibility.”

Crediting her University of Chicago education and its foundation in the classics as a source of creativity, Peirce singled out Aristotle’s Poetics as her inspiration.

Peirce also discussed one of the most controversial scenes in Boys, where a female character orgasms—a scene that initially earned the film an NC-17 rating.

Peirce said she had a strong conviction in the artistic merit of her writing and directing and felt that the excision of that scene would have greatly crippled the full message she was trying to convey to her audience.

“Who has been hurt by an orgasm that lasted too long?” she said, joking about the appeal process she took in order to get that rating overturned.

In a question-and-answer session after the discussion, Peirce offered advice to aspiring filmmakers and artists.

“You can find crumbs along the way. I got into the two best film schools, but [was] I going to make anything? The main thing is to feed your own creativity. And I’ve been so validated by it and I’m so appreciative of it,” she said.