“Ponyboi” writer and star River Gallo encourages filmmakers not to shy away from the messiness of accurate representation, whether it be of someone from New Jersey or the deeper identities that intersect like Gallo’s.
The “Ponyboi” scribe unpacked the inspiration for their feature film and Sundance 2024 entry, which started out as a short film they also directed, in an interview at TheWrap’s Sundance Portrait and Interview Studio presented by NFP. The short premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in 2019 and the feature is helmed by director Esteban Arango.
“The movie really came from wanting to put pen to paper [about] my feelings about coming from New Jersey. And then that feeling of being from New Jersey feeling like an outsider to New York, feeling on the periphery of things,” Gallo said. “Also, parlay to the various identities that I also intersect: being intersex, being queer, being Latinx. It came from a desire to try to evoke all these complicated feelings I had about my upbringing that then went into this short film that then took on a life of its own, and it naturally evolved into this crime thriller, drama, gender, genre-bending thing.”
The movie takes place throughout Valentine’s Day in New Jersey. Gallo’s young intersex sex worker has to run from the mob after a drug deal gone wrong. This escapade forces him to face their past. Dylan O’Brien, Victoria Pedretti, Annie Henk and Indya Moore also star in the film.
“Accuracy for representation, a lot of it has to do with the bravery to be messy in that representation. The thing that strikes me most about ‘Ponyboi’ and the character I wrote is that he’s kind of f–ked up,” Gallo said. “He does bad things but through the movie he’s redeeming himself and he’s finding his worth. He’s breaking down the expectations that society, the world [and] his parents had of him,”
Gallo went on to say that, “He’s finding that he could have new expectations for himself even if he isn’t certain what those expectations are yet. Living in that space of fluidity is really important to represent that accuracy in what it means to be queer. Because a lot of queerness is about uncertainty and the fact that you can transition or you could come out, but, and most movies of queer experience up until now have been about either one of those two things, it doesn’t end then. The story goes on, and it’s up to filmmakers, producers production companies, to try to push the conversation and that envelope forward to evoke a deeper truth about the queer experience. That becomes a more universal truth because everyone has these moments of transition, of uncertainty, of not knowing who you are.”
“Sometimes you could spend a lifetime not knowing who you are, and also someone or something can come into your life and show you who you are,” Gallo added. “The more we see that queer stories aren’t queer stories, they’re human stories — Can I get an amen? — that’s when we’ll really have a different conversation. I think ‘Ponyboi’ does that. There is an element to the movie that I think is going to speak to, not just queer people, but a broader audience at large. I’m really excited about that.”
Watch the full interview above.
“Ponyboi” is a sales title at Sundance.
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