Directed by Julie Cohen, Every Body is a film that wants to explore and disseminate the assumptions that we make about intersex people and gender identity. Focusing her camera on actor and screenwriter River Gallo (they/them), political consultant Alicia Roth Weigel (she/they) and Ph.D. student Sean Saifa Wall (he/him), Cohen shares the stories of shame and secrecy that they have had to carry with them throughout their lives. As members of the intersex community, all three have grown up with non-consensual surgeries that affected their souls in the deepest of ways. However, by inviting them to share their stories, Cohen gives voice to a population that has finally stepped forward to own (and celebrate) their bodies.
Interestingly, as Cohen follows the journeys of her three subjects, she uses her soundtrack to quietly add to the conversation. For example, those are soundtrack features multiple pop hits, Cohen ensures that we receive them in a different and unexpected manner. Though are songs are familiar, artists are replaced by members of the opposite gender. For example, whereas Springsteen’s Born to Run takes on a soulful tone as it’s performed by feminine voice, Lizzo‘s Good as Hell sounds entirely different when coming from a more masculine one. Subtle changes like this help to underscore the sorts of expectations that we place on particular voices and even changes the perspective of the song itself.
In doing so, Body helps undergird its arguments about the assumptions we make about gender. Opening with footage from multiple gender reveal parties, the film immediately establishes the binary nature of our world. Highlighting the celebrations over blue or pink smoke or water, Body wants the viewer to recognize that the dichotomy between genders is not that simple. For these individuals, gender was assigned at birth yet their bodies complicated the issue. Take Weigel, for example. Having been born with internal testicles that were subsequently removed, Weigel believes that simply referring to her as a female limit who she is. In a world where physical sexual organs determine the sex of the baby, her body obscures the question.
But Weigel’s story is only one of many.
Claiming that 230,000 American citizens are intersexual, Body shines a light in a population that’s often misunderstood by those who live on the outside. By allowing them to share their stories, Cohen exposes the errors and labels that exist about intersexuals while empowering them in the process. For instance, Body gives them the opportunity to tell their stories and share their feelings in their own words. Having grown up with genitalia that falls outside of the gender norms, these people have intimate knowledge of the damage done to them by the decisions of others made without their consent.
Perhaps the most heart-wrenching moments of the film come as Weigel, Wall & Gallo are invited watch a gender study from the 1970s. By engaging the story of David Raines, a young man intentionally raised as a female by his parents, the trio engage the pain of losing one’s true gender due to some social experiment. There’s a trauma that takes place within Raines that they connect with deeply and his story highlights the importance of owning the truth about one’s self.
While difficult to hear, these are the sorts of conversations that Body very much wants to have. Every Bodyargues that gender cannot necessarily be assigned by another. By sharing their stories, the film hopes to return the self-worth that has been stolen from these people due to the carelessness of others.
Because, for Cohen, Every Body matters.
Every Body is available in theatres on Friday, June 9th, 2023.