Every Body (2023)

by - July 14th, 2023 - Movie Reviews


Triumphant Every Body a Joyous Celebration and an Edifying Call to Action

Joy. That’s what I felt while watching Every Body. Joy.

Every Body (2023) | PHOTO: Focus Features

I can’t say that was something I expected going into the theater. Director Julie Cohen (RBG) examines the intersex community in her latest documentary, and with the current political atmosphere around gender identity being what it is, I feared I was about to watch something more dour (and dire) than euphoric. I think this is understandable, and it would have made sense if the filmmaker had chosen to walk down an angry path in order to try and call the audience’s attention to several serious societal issues.

But Cohen shows that you can ring alarm bells while still having fun and that you can celebrate life while still pointing out political and medical ills doing incredible damage. There is an effervescence to this showcase of identity and self-acceptance that’s sublime. Because of that, this journalistic exercise documenting unimaginable cruelty is an exhilarating tale of community and friendship that becomes so marvelously life-affirming that watching it is as edifying as it is triumphant.

Cohen’s documentary is centered on three intersex advocates: Sean Saifa Wall, Alicia Roth Weigel, and River Gallo. Each has a unique story, even if their hardships are somewhat similar. What’s fascinating is that the director refuses to put any of the trio under a microscope. They are not the ones being examined. They are not the ones being forced to account for their actions, as if their very existence is some sort of crime against nature.

Instead, they are celebrated. They have been forced by society to go down a traumatic rabbit hole, only to emerge stronger, feistier, and most of all happier as they now proudly live their lives as their authentic selves. They stand up for others like them, as well as take to task doctors and clueless politicians who would rather they just fade into the background, keep quiet, and not throw an all-too-obvious monkey wrench into their erroneous concepts of gender ideology.

Not that there isn’t pain. Weigel speaks bluntly about her gonadectomy (the removal of her internal testes) and equates what was done to her to forced castration. Wall reads aloud from his infant medical records, in which doctors lied to his parents about his gender by claiming he was female even though he didn’t have a uterus and had other male sexual characteristics. Gallo, an actor and artist finding their creative voice, has moments of naked candor that left me floored.

Cohen also interweaves an examination of medical treatment of intersex people — from infancy through adulthood — that is frequently angering. The level of cruelty is multiple steps beyond ghastly, creating a culture of “shame and stigma” that’s understandably difficult to overcome. Cohen puts her journalist skills to good use throughout these portions of her film, asking tough questions and pulling zero punches in her quest to find answers and hold the more conservative elements of the medical establishment accountable for their actions.

Every Body (2023) | PHOTO: Focus Features

This is an old-fashioned approach to documentary filmmaking. This is a talking-heads piece, and even though Cohen achieves a palpable sense of intimacy with her subjects, from a cinematic standpoint, things can come across as somewhat staid and formalist from time to time. Still, this sparseness does allow the focus to stay directly on Wall, Weigel, and Gallo, and that’s exactly as it should be.

This trio has every reason to be angry. They have the right to want to attack, to hit back at a society that has wronged them and their community in ways that go so far beyond heinous that there’s not the right word to describe it.

But the audience are not voyeurs looking at the intersex community as if they were freak show attractions at a third-rate backwoods carnival. That is not who they are, and that is not the message Cohen wants viewers to take home with them. Her film emanates a joy that makes me love Every Body. It is a celebration. It is a triumphantly happy yell into the void that signifies that a new day can and will dawn if people are willing to open their hearts, listen intently, and treat the world around them with kindness and empathy instead of fear and paranoia. Here’s hoping that’s exactly what is going to happen.

– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle

Film Rating: 3½ (out of 4)

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