Angelos Angelidis reviews the intersex-directed and starring short film.
Ponyboi is the result of a creative collaboration between co-director Sadé Clacken Joseph; writer, co-director, and lead star River Gallo; and executive producer Seven Graham. Following the story of Ponyboi, a Latinx, intersex runaway from New Jersey, the film exposes us to a life so contained physically and spiritually by societal restrictions through which non-normative bodies belong according to mainstream imaginations. Ponyboi works and lives at a laundromat, also prostituting themselves for a living. Meanwhile, the eponymous character is also caught up in a secret, coercive sexual affair with their friend’s boyfriend, who, at one point in the film, cruelly spits out to them that he decides “whether I fuck you like a bitch or like a faggot.”
But all that is swept away with the arrival of a very handsome and courteous cowboy who is almost too good to be true. In the short, it appears that the cowboy is only a figment of Ponyboi’s imagination; he encourages them to escape from the environment that restricts their self-expression. Breaking away from the abusive nature of allowing the world to determine such fundamental aspects of one’s self, like sex or gender, Ponyboi’s story can resonate with anyone who has too often caught themselves wishing for a more liberated, unbound life. Yet the film most importantly brings to the forefront the narrative of an intersex person, without making that the sentimentalist center of attention.
During this short film’s 19 minute course, time is visually bent, oscillating between dreamlike states and reality and between past and present in a style reminiscent of American New Wave films of the 1980s. Ponyboi takes us on an exquisite sensory journey exploring the reality of a character that has long been kept in darkness, unrepresented in mainstream film and television. Colour and lighting saturate the image and play with ideas of open and closed space, while editing adds a hallucinatory haze that transports the viewer straight into the mind of the protagonist. The music complements and skyrockets the cinematography — the best example of which being the establishing scene of the film, which sets the bar pretty high.
The screening was followed by an intimate Q&A with Seven, Sadé, and River, during which they opened up about trauma and about navigating the film industry as a person of colour, as a woman, or as a member of the LGBTQIIA community — especially an intersex person. Young directors like River and Sadé have continually been at the fringes of popular representation in the realm of the entertainment industry. They are claiming these spaces and helping raise the voice of thousands of people across the world through a film that pays homage to the existence, power, and perseverance of people whose identities do not fit into a binary. The fact that this film was made as a graduation project by River makes it all that more impressive.
The short is currently being extended into a feature film, so keep an eye out for this fresh art piece by following it on social media @ponyboi_film. I have a feeling that the cowboy might be more real than we are left to think (despite his dreamy looks) and I am very excited to follow Ponyboi on the rest of their journey.
Ponyboi was a part of the short film line-up at BFI Flare 2019. Check out the trailer below: