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Southern Comfort (2001 film)

Southern Comfort is a 2001 documentary film about the final year in the life of Robert Eads, a transgender man. Eads, diagnosed with ovarian cancer, was turned down for treatment by a dozen doctors out of fear that treating such a patient would hurt their reputations. By the time Eads received treatment, the cancer was too advanced to save his life.[1]

Southern Comfort
Directed byKate Davis
Produced byKate Davis
Music byJoel Harrison
CinematographyKate Davis
Edited byKate Davis
Distributed byHBO Documentary
Release date
Running time
90 mins
CountryUnited States


The film begins in the spring and documents Eads' life through the following winter. Eads falls in love with Lola, a transgender woman. He spends those remaining warm days in the company of his "chosen family": Maxwell, Cas, and "the rest". That summer, his mother and father drive ten hours to visit Robert, who is still their daughter in their eyes. Later that year, Eads makes his last appearance at the Southern Comfort Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, a prominent[2] transgender gathering. Already feeling ill, he addresses a crowd of 500 and takes Lola to what is for them a prom that never was. Shortly after the conference, Eads dies in a nursing home with his chosen family.

After Eads' death, his ashes were spread across the family farm around a lone Christmas tree which was to symbolize Robert's many changes and blossomings in life.

Eads' friends, Tom and Debbie King, also appear in the film. They saved Eads' life when he collapsed in a pool of his own blood while staying with them. They initially sought treatment for Eads but were unable to locate a doctor willing to treat a transgender man.

Robert's lifelong struggle to have his outer appearance match his inner self is a salient theme in the movie. All persons portrayed in the movie wrestle with themes of rejection from others, rejection of self, feeling ostracized from humanity and ultimately crafting their own lives and personal support systems.

Stage adaptationEdit

A stage musical, based on the film, was presented Off-Broadway at the Public Theater. The musical was conceived by Robert DuSold and Thomas Caruso, with book and lyrics by Dan Collins and music by Julianne Wick Davis, and directed by Caruso. The musical ran from February 22, 2016 (previews) to March 27.[3][4][5] Annette O'Toole was featured as Robert Eads, with Jeff McCarthy as "Lola Cola".[6][7]

The musical had a workshop production by the Off-Off-Broadway CAP 21 Theatre Company from October 6, 2011 to November 5, 2011.[8][9]

The musical then was produced at the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in July 2013, as part of the BSC Musical Theatre Lab.[10]

Julianne Wick Davis and Dan Collins won the Jonathan Larson Grant in 2012.[7][11][12]

The stage adaption faced some criticism for its failure to cast more trans actors. All but two of the roles had been filled by cisgender actors.[13][14] However, Pride Films & Plays in Chicago announced a new production in 2019 featuring trans performers playing all five transgender characters.[15]

Cinematic influenceEdit

Southern Comfort is included within texts that cross reference cinematic with feminist theory, often in conjunction with other films with transgender leads such as Boys Don’t Cry and The Crying Game. These texts state that the documentary serves as a corrective device for many transgender stereotypes. Since the transgender character is historically stereotyped in film, Southern Comfort's style has created a cinematic influence, specifically on how the audience views transgender bodies. One of them is the fact that it doesn’t use “camp” or “fetish” as the backbone to Robert Eads.[16] Another is the use of the "transgender look".[17] This is a term coined by Judith Halberstam which was adapted from bell hook's theory of "The Oppositional Gaze", which was a way to politicize the way black women are "gazed" at and seen as spectacles within cinematography.[18] The "transgender look" was a way of theorizing transgender readability by letting the transgender character exist outside of the "male gaze" - which is the patriarchal lens through which most cinema has been processed.[17] It is the idea that we are “looking with” the transgender character instead of observing or “looking at” them.[17] Southern Comfort is part of these discussions because it is one of the first films, along with the others earlier mentioned, that uses these cinematic preferences to erase stereotype and influence the film’s audience in a new way.


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Ravishankar, Mathura (January 18, 2013). "The Story About Robert Eads". The Journal of Global Health. Archived from the original on September 14, 2013. Retrieved September 13, 2013.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  2. ^ Erhardt, Virginia (2007). Head over heels: wives who stay with cross-dressers and transsexuals. Haworth Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-7890-3094-8.
  3. ^ Stock, Allison. "Annette O'Toole and Jeff McCarthy Open in Public Theater's 'Southern Comfort'", March 9, 2016
  4. ^ "'Southern Comfort', Starring Annette O'Toole & Jeff McCarthy, Delays Official Off-Broadway Opening", March 7, 2016
  5. ^ "Public announces casting for 'Southern Comfort'", December 17, 2015
  6. ^ Southern Comfort, accessed March 14, 2016
  7. ^ a b Clement, Olivia. "Transgender Musical 'Southern Comfort' Opens Tonight" Playbill, March 13, 2016
  8. ^ Gans, Andrew. "New Musical 'Southern Comfort', Featuring Annette O'Toole and Jeff McCarthy, Extends Run" Playbill, October 28, 2011
  9. ^ Rooney, David. "Theater Review. 'Southern Comfort'" The New York Times, October 12, 2011
  10. ^ Murray, Larry. "Barrington Stage’s musical 'Southern Comfort' set for NY’s Public Theater", February 11, 2016
  11. ^ "Larson Award, 2012", accessed March 14, 2015
  12. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "'Southern Comfort' Writers Julianne Wick Davis and Dan Collins Are Jonathan Larson Grant Winners" Playbill, March 9, 2012
  13. ^ "An Open Letter to The Public Theater". Google Docs. Retrieved 2018-03-14.
  14. ^ Fornarola, Isaac (2015-12-23). "Trans* Artist Writes Open Letter to Public Theater After 'Southern Comfort' Cast Announcement". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2018-03-14.
  15. ^ "Pride Films and Plays casts 'Southern Comfort'". Chicago Tribune. 2018-12-28. Retrieved 2019-01-23.
  16. ^ McKintosh, Heather (2012). "Teaching Transgender Issues through Documentary and Southern Comfort". A Feminist Journal Online. 3: 64–86.
  17. ^ a b c Halberstam, Judith (2010). The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. USA and Canada: Routledge. pp. 146–154. ISBN 978-0-415-54370-5.
  18. ^ hooks, bell (2010). The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. USA and Canada: routledge. pp. 107–118. ISBN 978-0-415-54370-5.

External linksEdit