About 130 million people are intersex – an umbrella term that describes a person born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that “doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male,” according to the Intersex Society of North America – and yet, there are only a handful of films and documentaries that dare to even broach the subject.
“Intersex people have long been telling their own stories,” says Gallo. “Intersex artists like Koomah and Lynnell Stephani Long created films in the 1990s and 2000s and recently documentaries by Pidgeon Pagonis and Arisleya Dilone. However, Ponyboi was the first film with the resources and production that garnered acclaim in the film industry to reach a global mass and appeal through our festival run and received the attention of Hollywood.”
Ponyboi, played by Gallo, is an intersex runaway who works by day at a laundromat and by night as a sex worker in suburban New Jersey. Ponyboi dreams of escaping the isolation of his reality. This dreamily shot, romantic story introduces Ponyboi to a handsome stranger who holds the key to a new life. It’s an intimate depiction of the self-redemption and love that many intersex people experience brought to the Hollywood screen.
“To me, I feel proud to be standing on the shoulders of the intersex artists that paved the path before me. Intersex visibility and representation will always be a political act because of the deliberate erasure by the medical industry and media. Intersex bodies disrupt and reveal the fallacy of the gender binary, and there is both a conscious and unconscious resistance to that.”
Intersex bodies disrupt and reveal the fallacy of the gender binary, and there is both a conscious and unconscious resistance to that.
As an NYU graduate and USC student, Gallo directed Ponyboi for their final submission studying film. “My film program culminated in a final screening at school, so the bar was high to make a polished film. However, I also knew that I wanted the film to have a solid run in the international festival circuit,” they explain.
And it did – boasting over 40 festivals in 8 different countries, including Tribeca Film Festival in 2019. Gallo also won the GLAAD Rising Stars Grant last year, whose other recipients include Aaron Philip and Jazz Jennings, awarding LGBTQ+ creatives accelerating queer acceptance while shaping the future of news, entertainment, social, and all forms of media.
Humbly, Gallo says they could not have made the film without the support they received from their closest friends, citing their best friend and co-director Sadé Clacken Joseph as their rock. The short film also caught the eye and subsequent support of industry stalwarts Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson, who joined the project as executive producers.
“They were truly angels,” they gush. “Through our friend and artist Ela Xora, my executive producer Seven Graham (who is also an intersex activist) and I met Stephen virtually at a panel about intersex identity held at the Royal College of Art in London. Stephen has been an ally for intersex people and has written about intersex deities in Roman and Greek mythology. A few weeks after the panel, we had lunch with Stephen in LA where we told him about Ponyboi and he absolutely loved it. He agreed to be our executive producer and a few days later got the support of Emma Thompson to also come on board. Their support opened so many doors and made people realize that this wasn’t just an intersex/queer story but was a human story with board appeal.”
Gallo is furthering their future in intersex storytelling, teasing that they have completed scriptwriting for a feature-length version of Ponyboi. They say: “I am hopeful that Ponyboi, the upcoming feature film, along with any future acting roles I take on will create radical shifts so that intersex narratives will finally be part of popular culture and consciousness.”
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