Movie Review - Every Body

Despite the abundance of great gay documentaries, few films have focused on the “I” in LGBTQIA+. Every Body, directed by Julie Cohen, attempts to fill this void by delving into the complexity of the intersex experience. For those who are unfamiliar with Cohen’s work, she is best recognized for her collaborations with co-director Betsy West. Cohen and West, as a directing team, have paid respect to the story of extraordinary people such as Julia Child in 2021’s Julia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the Academy Award-nominated RBG. Cohen’s love for her clients pervades Every Body, which insightfully promotes awareness of intersex people despite some distracting artistic decisions.

The film begins with a montage of progressively ridiculous gender reveal parties. On the one hand, it’s amusing to parody the absurdity of this very normative custom. On the other hand, the montage serves as a sombre reminder of the society that many intersex persons must live in. It is a world that cannot look beyond the binary of male and female. Thus, Every Body is about encouraging audiences to investigate the lives of individuals who live between and beyond the binary—specifically, the intersex experience. (For those who are unfamiliar, intersex persons are those born with an anatomical difference that does not correspond with either male or female, as defined by standard notions of sex.)

Every Body Trailer


The video explores the tales of three renowned intersex activists, Sean Saifa Wall, Alicia Roth Weigel, and River Gallo, to address the intersex experience. The film’s primary method of interaction with its subjects is through interviews in which activists relate their experiences growing up in a world that was not prepared for intersex individuals. The featured individuals, all of whom are candid and engaging, generously share their experiences with medical trauma and the imposed secrecy that surrounds being intersex. The audience obtains fresh insights into the lives of intersex persons as a result of their experiences. Though these tales might be difficult to hear, they are necessary talks to have.

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While the film deals with the suffering of its protagonists, Cohen is cautious not to let that define her film’s portrayal of being intersex. Each activist is given the opportunity to discuss how they have navigated the world, their accomplishments, and the efforts they are doing to change it. Wall, Weigel, and Gallo are all shown battling for their rights in either archive material or present observation, either testifying in front of legislators or protesting on the street. These sequences clearly show how inspirational each of these people is, and the film encourages its audience to follow their lead and join the cause. Equally important, the video spends time with each activist simply living their life. Each protester is depicted as a fully realized character, whether it’s Wall getting dressed in the mirror, Gallo preparing for a play, or Weigel swiping on Tinder with a glass of rosé. Cohen imbues the film with empathy by examining their lives beyond their mutual experiences and praising her subjects as both champions and average people.

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Every Body effectively gives painful insights about the nature of development, in addition to its campaigners’ sharpness. One such scene has Wall and Weigel video conferencing with the mother of an intersex kid. Wall and Weigel are happy to learn that the medical staff took a gradual approach and did not compel the kid to undergo unauthorized surgery when discussing how the physicians addressed the mother. This is in stark contrast to the years of medical treatments and scrutiny that Wall and Weigel have faced. However, the mother also adds that after physicians urged her not to have any more children after learning the intersex features were likely passed on to her kid through her DNA. This scene demonstrates that even when medical practitioners are more open to intersex care, they may still cling to the binary. This is one way Every Body ensures that, while progress is being made (often owing to folks like Wall, Weigel, and Gallo), there is still work to be done.

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While the film is mainly effective, there are some irritating artistic decisions in Every Body. Some of these selections, such as the film’s soundtrack, are just cliché. Many of the film’s more dramatic moments are accompanied by over-the-top cover songs, such as when a village comes together to the tune of “Stand by Me.” Aside from the ingenious use of “Pretty Woman” when Weigel approaches the Texas Capitol to oppose the discriminating government, the song’s obviousness mainly distracts from, rather than supports, the emotional impact of what is happening on screen.

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Other decisions, on the other hand, feel out of sync with the film’s compassionate tone. Much of Every Body is devoted to scrutinizing the medical establishment’s harm done to the intersex population, with particular derision thrown at Dr. John Money, whose harsh and damaging practices became prominent in medicine. Archival video of Money’s speeches and study is one method Cohen explores Money’s effect. While part of this information is instructional for Every Body viewers, Cohen takes the peculiar decision to capture Wall’s, Weigel’s, and Gallo’s responses to seeing the tape. While the goal is to show how destructive Money’s study has been to intersex individuals, there is no need for the audience to watch Wall, Weigel, and Gallo watch the tape. Cohen pointing the camera at them in this moment, clearly seeking for an emotional reaction, feels out of place for a painstakingly empathetic picture. While these scenes are irritating, they do not consume enough screen time to detract from the film’s message.

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Despite a few flaws, Every Body is an important addition to the canon of gay films. The film informs and stimulates in equal measure, thanks to its intelligent investigation of intersex lives and the gracious subjects who lead the audience along the way.

Rating: A-