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Soldiers Girl: Film Review
I cant write an objective review of this film, Im afraid. Im
too close to too many people involved with this film.
As many of you know, its a dramatic retelling of a romance between one
of my best friends, Calpernia
Addams, and a young Army private named Barry Winchell. Its a love
story, with fire, and flare, and passion, and tenderness, and in the end, a
hatred that explodes into the most unspeakable violence. This film doesnt
shy away from any of it, either.
I sat next to Calpernia, and to be honest, Im not sure I could have sat
through it if I were she. Imagine what it would be like to see yourself portrayed
on screen, in an intimate way, with someone you cared for deeply, someone who
was taken away from you by murderous bigots
it was a heartwrenching night,
to watch this film surrounded by those closest to the events portrayed and the
artists who worked to tell their stories with insight and honor. I felt I couldnt
do enough to be there for Calpernia that night. There was something very cathartic
about it all, though, as the entire audience stood applauding at the end and
joined in supporting her and in being there for her emotionally. I tend to be
a pretty tough sell on emotional things, but seeing such an outpouring of support
from people who were truly moved by this rare humanized portrayal of transgenderism
got me glassy-eyed.
The film was directed by the legendary Frank Pierson, who was not afraid to
show either the sexuality between the couple, or Barrys violent death.
Screenwriter Ron Nyswaner, who also wrote Philadelphia, crafted a marvelous
love story, and managed to discuss transgender themes with panache and sensitivity,
and without getting too lurid. If you ask me, the best-written part in the film
is the villain, Justin Fisher, who is complicated and calculating as the jealous
and unstable roommate who goads another soldier into killing Barry. Shawn Hatosy
does an incredible job bringing this Iago character to life.
A number of other artists took chances in this film, notably Troy Garity, who
plays Barry. Troy plays Barry as a little slow and a little sweet, but over
time, Troy conveyed a marvelous sense of how much complication there really
is in a seemingly uncomplicated man like Barry. The love scenes exude real passion,
and I am sure they will cause a lot of viewers to be uncomfortable because they
are so challenging to conventional ideas of sexuality. There is a scene in Calpernias
house, where Barry breaks down, saying he just wants to be happy. Troys
performance in this scene is one of the most real and heartfelt expressions
of emotion Ive seen in a film in years. Its refreshing to have an
actor of his caliber take a role this challenging and controversial, without
worrying what it will do to his career. I get the feeling Troys just getting
I suppose that my greatest disappointment in the film is the portrayal of Calpernia
herself. Trying to see it objectively as a story, her character is the least
nuanced of the three main characters. And as wonderfully as I feel the part
was played by newcomer Lee Pace, this was once again another film where a transgender
woman was played by a non-transgender man. This is not to slam Lee, who is
especially good at capturing the pain and pathos of someone in the midst of
a gender transformation. This film was important to make, but the fact that
roles like these still go to actors outside the transgender community shows
how far we still have to go. Those who know Calpernia know that she is quite
lovely and soft-spoken. At the time the story occurred, she was still in the
midst of things, but anyone who sees this portrayal and then sees the Calpernia
I know will probably feel that this is a misrepresentation. Perhaps its
good in a way, since it makes the film that much more challenging.
There are fascinating parallels between the straight drag of the military and
the gay drag of the club where Calpernia performed. I wish more of that duality
had been played up, but I am glad they spent a lot of time with the two characters
away from their ridiculously gendered workplaces, having good, clean fun at
cookouts, in the park, in bed
That is the true triumph of this film: a
normalized relationship with the perfect combination of lust and love.
The climactic scenes are simply staggering, and Ill leave it at that.
Some critics thought that the writer had taken creative license, and that Barry
was not killed over 4th of July weekend on the very night Calpernia won Miss
Tennessee Entertainer of the Year. Sometimes the truth is more dramatic than
any plot twist, because thats exactly what happened. At any rate, this
part of the film is an extraordinarily effective piece of storytelling, played
out to Annie Lennoxs Cold.
In the aftermath of this tragedy, many people have rallied to make changes
in military policy, notably the Servicemembers
Legal Defense Network, who continue to fight for GLBT rights in the military.
I have also had the honor of meeting Barrys mom and stepdad. To this day,
they continue to fight for justice on behalf of their son and everyone else
harmed by the dont ask, dont tell policy. Just this
month, they have been able to help postpone the promotion of Major General Robert
T. Clark, who was in charge of the base at the time Barry was murdered, and
they continue to travel around the country speaking at VFW halls or wherever
anyone will listen to their message of tolerance. When I think of American heroes
Ive had the honor of knowing, Pat
and Wally Kutteles are right up there.
Beyond the important message this film carries, the process has opened doors
to getting other stories with gender themes told. We have had a chance to spend
time with the writer, the director, the producers, and the actors. We have been
to their homes and vice versa, and weve had some very encouraging discussions
about what else can be done. The film and the amazing artists involved have
spurred Calpernia and me to work to improve media depictions of transgender
people, and to try to get transgender stories told in our own words. The momentum
is on the side of our community, and we will keep you posted as we move forward.
I hope youll all consider sending Calpernia a note or stopping by her bulletin
board to thank her for being such an eloquent spokeswoman in the face of
this tragedy. Shes been through a harrowing ordeal in the last few years,
and she dealt with it all far better than I could have. I am very proud to know
Soldiers Girl premieres on Showtime
on Saturday May 31. Check your local listings for times.