Academy Award winner Ariana DeBose, who hosted the Tony Awards a few weeks ago, was in Atlanta recently for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the OMEGA boutique and a dinner that evening. Between gigs, DeBose — an OMEGA brand ambassador — took time to talk to reporters.
The actress’s first major professional musical was in 2011 with the Alliance Theatre’s “Bring It On,” featuring music by Tom Kitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, lyrics by Amanda Green and Miranda, and book by Jeff Whitty. Buoyed by strong reviews, the show made it to Broadway in 2012. DeBose calls the Atlanta gig the real start of her career. She’s also been in the blockbuster “Hamilton,” the film version of the queer-themed “The Prom,” and won her Oscar for Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.”
It’s been important for her to be out.
“When I won an Oscar, I didn’t expect that,” said DeBose. “To be the first Afro-Latino and the first openly queer women [of color] to win an Oscar was huge. It was huge for my communities. I think that is largely because of representation. If you can see it, you can be it. Now I’m in this new chapter of my life where I am symbolizing possibility for some people, and I take that very seriously. With the myriad of LGBTQ legislation that we are seeing, it is important to use my platform to talk about what it is to vote and the importance of how it affects other people and what true allyship looks like.”
The new documentary, “Every Body,” is an extraordinary look at the lives of intersex people. The subjects are actor/ screenwriter River Gallo, political consultant Alicia Roth Weigel and Ph.D. student Sean Saifa Wall. Wall lived in Atlanta from 2012 to 2020.
According to director Julie Cohen, her friends at NBC News asked her to look through their archives for material that might make a potent film. She immediately gravitated toward the stranger-than-fiction story of Dr. John Money and his unorthodox treatment of patient David Reimer. “It has relevance to the modern day with our expanding understanding of gender,” Cohen said. Producer Tommy Nguyen was aware of the high statistics of intersex people beforehand.
“It was important to put it up front in the film,” Nguyen said. “I knew this was going to be the new frontier in the rights movement.”
Cohen realizes there is not much representation of intersex individuals.
“People are wary of the complexity of the story and until recently there has been a fairly small population of intersex people willing to talk about their life stories,” Cohen said. “This is changing dramatically and rapidly.”
For intersex people, growing up can be difficult. “A lot of times, for many they don’t really know themselves,” said Nguyen. “They piece together their story themselves. All three [here] had to rely on themselves. That is such a sad story to be so alone discovering who are you. Thank God there are now more resources and places to go on the internet.”
Weigel was the first to get involved, impressed with the work Cohen has done with politics and gender equity. She was supposed to be in a similar film, but that didn’t happen. The vibe here was different — and right. Wall calls Cohen a documentarian he could share his story with and lean into it.
Gallo was the last to get involved. “I had some reservations at first,” they said. “A lot of my work is self-scripted, so I had to trust someone else with how they shaped my story.”
Often when intersex issues have been addressed, they have not been brought up as intersex. Its subjects have been called hermaphrodites or people having male and female sexual organs.
“There are some real inaccuracies which feed those stereotypes and misconceptions,” Wall said. “I hope this will be the first doc to honor people’s lives and experiences. We are not mythical. We need more media that humanizes intersex people.”
Another misconception is that intersex people are new.
“We have been around everywhere,” Weigel said. “It blows people’s minds when they learn that we are as common as redheads. This isn’t some new-fangled thing that people in hip liberal coasts are doing. There are intersex people all across the South. The more we fix the utter lack of representation, the more of us will share our stories.”
Justin Wirick has been with the national tour of “Wicked” since January 2010. He has chosen to make the gay favorite musical, in town now via Broadway in Atlanta, a huge part of his career.
“I get to be onstage eight times a week and ‘Wicked’ is a show that, for right now, is not going anywhere, so it has offered me as an artist such consistent work,” he said. “There are shows that open and close in 30 days, shows that stay open for a year or tour for a year. Not only was this my dream job and show, but it has given me stability as an artist.”
He is part of the ensemble and on the dancer track.
He keeps the gig fresh by remembering that, although the show is the same each night, it is a completely different audience every time — sometimes with different performers — and it’s his job to respect that. “It’s fun to sing and dance and act and do what we love, but there are days when it’s hard and that is when the craft comes in and the work.” Wirick is also the “Wicked” rep who works gathering collections for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. On July 24, cast members of the “Wicked” tour will collaborate with Joining Hearts on a one-night cabaret benefit, Witches Night Off, at Lips Atlanta.