Director Kimberly Peirce on the queerness of “Carrie”

AE: I was watching Valentine Road the other night—are you familiar with this documentary?

KP: No, no, no—tell me.

AE: It was on HBO this week about Larry King, the boy who was murdered after asking a straight classmate to be his valentine. There was a young butch girl in it who said she’d recently watched Boys Don’t Cry and it had scared her but also inspired her to be who she was and not lie about it. I just thought, it’s so great to watch people even younger than me, a new generation, watching that movie and getting something out of it, it’s still so relevant to them. Do you still feel that? Do you have people who tell you how much that movie means to them?

KP: I do. I mean, I’m very humbled by it. I constantly have people coming up to me and either they are the person who saw Boys for the first time and it gave them permission, just as you say, to be who they are and kind of entered out in the world because they didn’t know people like this existed and were like them. And I’ve certainly met a lot of parents who thank me and say “I saw Boys Don’t Cry and got a better understanding of my child and who they are and what they’re dealing with.” And there’s a whole other extreme—I was amazed when we took the movie out, and it’s still happening, there were straight people who had no experience of somebody who was struggling with their gender identity or their sexual preference or to find that space where they’re considered normal. It opens up their world, they said, because they love Brandon. It’s really how I make films: Let somebody fall in love with the main character and they will then understand that person, whether they’re a different gender identity, a different sexual preference, a different race,  a different religion—we really, through stories, end up loving these characters, we can help kind of heal the world.

I actually just did a Matthew Shepard documentary. What was amazing to me—the sad part of all this is that it happened again while we were shooting [Boys Don't Cry]. And you know I really hoped that through the story we can change that, certainly making it better for the people who will be affected and hopefully the people giving them a hard time would stop giving them a hard time. But it’s really the power of story.

Look I was lucky to make Boys Don’t Cry, it was a passion project. I read that story and felt responsible. I jumped on a plane and met the wonderful friends of mine now who are a part of the Transexual Menace, a number of transexuals who were in  in different stages of transition. We went to the murder trial. It was a great experience of my life. The fact that Boys Don’t Cry lives on is very humbling. In a lot of ways Carrie is very similar. I fell in love with the main character, she’s also a misfit. She also struggled to be loved and accepted, and she also takes the risk that Brandon took of venturing out, going to that prom to have that special night, even though there are risks. And of course, you know, those risks come to bear fruit, they’re true. I mean she ends up getting hurt but in this case, what’s interesting, is she retaliates. I feel strongly and carefully about revenge and retaliation. I think it’s OK in a fictional setting, I think it’s OK if there’s a level of justice to it and I think it’s OK if she’s going after the people who did her wrong and I think it’s OK if she doesn’t have full control over her powers.

AE: From what I can tell, you’ve never been closeted in Hollywood. You were out at the time you made Boys Don’t Cry, correct?

KP: Yeah, I was definitely out in my life and made the decision to be out in my press and publicity.

AE: Can you talk about that decision? At the time—and even now, people say in Hollywood you can lose jobs or opportunities for being out. Has that ever been an issue for you?

KP: I was living in the East Village and me and all my buddies, we were just out. It’s just what we did. We weren’t part of the mainstream and we kind of fell off the map and kind of entered a queer time and a queer space. We were going to the Dyke March, we were making art. My friends were straight and gay and queer—there were no boundaries really in New York then. All of a sudden Boys—I thought it was going to be a small movie but it started moving to the mainstream and everybody said “Oh you’re going to have to do a lot of interviews.” It was really interesting because it was the first time someone said “Well they’re going to ask you if you’re queer.” At that point they said “They’re going to ask if you’re a lesbian,” because that was more the terminology, and I just thought “How strange? Why would someone while they are interviewing a director and I’m clearly queer, why would they ask me that question?” But then I had to make a decision because suddenly that was going to be written about. And I could only be honest.

I was never interested in going back in the closet. I was never really in the closet but I was certainly, at an age when I realized I was queer, self-conscious and realized I was making a life choice. But it was unthinkable that I was going to go in the closet so actually it was the first journalist who interviewed me, and she said straight out, “Are you a lesbian?” And I said “Well that’s a strange question to ask me, given I made a movie and I think we should talk about me being a director. But if you’re asking me to be honest about who I am, of course. I’m a queer person. This is who I am and this is who I love. But the only thing I”ll ask you, you can put it in the article, but don’t make it that at the exclusion of me being a qualified director.” I’m Jewish, I’m Italian, fine put that in the article but don’t make it that I’m only an Italian director and I can only make Italian films. Same thing with queer. I want to make queer films, I want to make straight films. She was great, she included it in the article and honestly, that day forward, everybody knew and nobody cared unless they had an interest. If you look up Outfest, I give a whole speech on that period … that whole speech on my queerness and how I dress at the Oscars. It’s a fun speech, it was important to me that—not only sexual preference and be out, but my gender identity. There weren’t enough kind of butch outfits to wear that I felt comfortable in dressed up so that’s been this challenge to figure out—I know people say “Does dressing matter?” But for queer people—particularly if gender identity is a concern of one’s—how you dress is huge. So if you notice, I dressed a little effeminately when I went to the Oscars for Boys. It’s kind of mixed up because I tell a funny story about it but I was so happy at my recent premiere, if you look at the pictures, I finally found a tux that works.

AE: It’s a great tux! I was going to ask who made it.

KP: Prada made it. Prada has been a great supporter of mine. And what  love in particular is if you look at the evolution of how I dressed 10 years ago and how I was able to dress for that premiere, I feel entirely in my gender. I feel entirely in my queerness. I feel confident, I feel appropriate. And what’s amazing was, so much of the press—something in Britain picked it up and said my fiance and I looked smashing. Whether we did or didn’t, I think it was a queer embodiment of myself and I’m able to do that and I’m able to be accepted and I am on the red carpet with my fiancee. And I think five years ago, that might have ruffled a lot more feathers—the ruffled feathers are not—there’s a wonderful acceptance of the culture, at least some of the culture, for me to be in my sexual preference, in my gender identity, and a director. I’m able to be myself, and  I think that’s hugely important for all of us. So I’m very proud of that.

"Carrie" - Los Angeles Premiere - Arrivals

AE: Lastly, all your films seem to have an element of social change. Is that something, going forward in new projects, you want to make sure is included?

KP:  Well I’m compelled by social dilemmas and social problems, and very strong characters I love and want to see get what they want. So it turns out most of the characters are stuck in a social problem that requires social change. So yes, that’s always going to be a part of what I do. What’s fun about Carrie is it has all that depth in it but it’s a fantastically entertaining and fun movie. You’re meant to go to Carrie and a good time, while also being aware of social issues. There’s a great revenge story, there’s a great superhero-origin story, there’s a fantastic relationship with the mother, it’s very modern. So I think if you can have both:  You can have issues of social consequence but also be wildly entertaining, I think as a filmmaker, you are satisfying yourself and you’re satisfying a responsibility. If you look at Boys Don’t Cry, it’s a serious movie but it affected change and it’s really entertaining.

Carrie opens October 18 in theaters nationwide.

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