screen gems

The true story of a veteran, killed for loving a woman

Soldier’s Girl

Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.

The Harrowing: Soldier’s Girl

It brings us so much joy to realize that LGBTQ Americans serving their country in the military have been able to do so openly for more than a decade. We’re still waiting on a deluge of films that capture the experience of queer people who dared to serve before President Barack Obama championed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” No doubt those stories will have their share of harrowing–and horrifying–details.

For a precursor, look no further than this 2003 drama penned by openly gay Philadelphia screenwriter Ron Nyswaner. Soldier’s Girl tells the real-life story of Army Private Barry Winchell (played in the film by Troy Garity, son of Jane Fonda), and his girlfriend Calpernia Addams (played by queer actor Lee Pace). While stationed outside Nashville, Winchell meets Addams–also a veteran–at a nightclub where she works as a dancer. Sparks fly, and the couple begin dating. When word gets out that Calpernia is actually transgender, Winchell’s fellow servicemen begin to target him with homophobic harassment. Sparks of a different kind begin to fly, resulting in an explosive and devastating conclusion.

First things first: elements of Soldier’s Girl haven’t aged well, notably the casting of Pace as a transgender woman. That said, Pace gives a powerful and convincing performance as Addams. Garity also delivers one of his best performances as Winchell, a man so in love he fails to recognize the impending danger around him. Then again, maybe Winchell does recognize the danger…he just has nowhere to turn.

Soldier’s Girl tells both an important queer story, and makes an important point: in a climate of codified homophobia, everyone–gay, straight, or in between–is at risk. Though it may be a film of its time, it is one made with empathy, sincerity, and righteous anger. Viewers may not exactly feel eager to revisit a story this sad or painful, but as LGBTQ people and Americans, we owe it to ourselves and our progeny to remember the unpleasant chapters, lest we ever repeat them.

Watch, and pay respect.

Streams on Paramount+ and YouTube.