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Tribeca Review: In Intersex Documentary “Every Body,” Love and Strength Are Everything

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | June 19th, 2023

Film poster: “Every Body”

Every Body (Julie Cohen, 2023) 3 out of 4 stars.

The American evangelical right-wing movement is filled with people who fundamentally fail to understand the message of the god in whom they profess to believe. Love is, as far as my own Christian upbringing tells me, the prime directive. Anything else comes from a false prophet. These lost souls are certainly neither the first nor the last of their kind, yet we exist in an era where the ugly head of hate and discrimination are on the rise, all in the name of Jesus (or some other deity, as befits one’s particular fundamentalist faith).

As attacks on members of the LGBTQIA community increase, we who believe in human decency and equal rights for all need to step up, speak out, and confront the regressive forces in the world. In her new documentary, Every Body, made without her frequent collaborator Betsy West, director Julie Cohen (Julia) enters the cinematic fray by showcasing three intersex protagonists, each of whom explains their personal struggles for recoginition and self-determination. They are Sean Saifa Wall, Alicia Roth Weigel, and River Gallo, and they make a most powerful trio.

l-r: Alicia Roth Weigel, River Gallo and Sean Saifa Wall in EVERY BODY, a Focus Features release. Courtesy of FOCUS FEATURES / © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC

And what is the definition of “intersex”? It’s one of the normal variations of our species, and is an umbrella term to describe a variety of possible manifestations beyond the societally expected binary of female/male. These could include sex organs and/or genitals from both genders, combinations of chromosomes that are neither XX nor XY (or chromosomes that appear in opposition to the physical presentation of gender), along with some other possibilities.

Unfortunately, when such babies are born, doctors have traditionally pressured parents to make a decision on their child’s gender, either in the hospital or soon thereafter. This rushed choice may end up flying in the face of the nascent being’s eventual identity, however they may publicly present. In the documentary, we learn all about the many horror stories of surgeries that forced a gender identity on the patient that would later be rejected. And no, there is no correlation with similar surgeries for those, who are not intersex, wishing to transition from one gender to another. The issues are separate, as Every Body strives to make clear, although there is a danger that the wrong lesson could be learned from these examples.

River Gallo in EVERY BODY, a Focus Features release. Courtesy of FOCUS FEATURES / © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC

Opening and closing with montages of the horrible gender-reveal-party trend of the last two decades, Cohen emphasizes throughout how hard it is to not conform to the male-female dichotomy. So much harm has been done, in the name of both science and religion, to confront perceived abnormalities, that we can only gasp in awe at the resilience displayed by our main characters. We can also recoil in horror at the work of Dr. John Money, of Johns Hopkins, whose experiments included sex-reassignment surgery on young David Reimer, one half of a pair of twin boys whose penis was damaged during a botched circumcision. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

Despite some of this traumatic content, the movie is also filled with great humor. After all, River, Alicia, and Saifa are vivacious human beings who live full lives, defined by more than their intersex identities. Every Body is as much celebration as anything, delivering a vibrant portrait of the best among us. Be strong, and be yourself. And always, love.

l-r: Sean Saifa Wall and Alicia Roth Weigel in EVERY BODY, a Focus Features release. Courtesy of FOCUS FEATURES / © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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