– Mild Spoilers
Middle school might easily be the worst years of most people’s lives. But for Spork (Savannah Stehlin), it’s more complicated than feeling misunderstood. She actually is misunderstood. Why? Spork is intersex, and Spork is a nickname given to her by her older brother as a play on the fact that, like a spork, she is “both”.
A film about a pre-adolescent intersex girl could easily turn dark or wildly ignorant, but this musical comedy focuses less on our protagonist’s genitalia, and more on how she navigates life in a world where she is surround by conservative bigots who could care less about her as a person and would rather speculate about her anatomy and sexual orientation.
As well as being intersex, Spork is also poor, and in the care of her older brother, since their mother is dead and their father ran off years ago. Her only friend is her neighbour, Tootsie Roll (Sydney Park). She and Spork’s brother, Spit (Rodney Eastman), are the only people who don’t treat Spork like a science experiment.
At school, Spork is constantly bullied by Betsy Byotch (Rachel Fox) and her posse. One day, after a Christian school club rejects her membership, Spork breaks down and in the midst of falling apart, she meets Chunk (Kevin Chung). Chuck encourages her to stand up for herself, and after bouncing a basketball off Betsy’s face, Spork becomes inspired to stand out instead of trying to blend in.
She gets out of her shell and really gets to know Tootsie Roll and Chunk, and find out what’s important to them, to be a friend instead of just the person crying on their shoulders. After Tootsie Roll experiences a major beauty-related accident, Spork decides to help her friend in the goal of raising enough money to go see her incarcerated father by entering the school talent show in her stead.
As Spork navigates her first love interest, figuring out what she wants, and actually learning to dance, she cares less and less about what people think of her intersex identity. Once this is no longer a point of shame or embarrassment for her, we see Spork truly blossom.
Though Spork does raise some eyebrows in its continuity of the tradition of White people using Black people and Black culture as an instructional tool to render themselves some talent and street cred, it is unique in the fact that our protagonist’s motivation is to repay her friend’s loyalty by doing something for her that she can’t currently do for herself. Spork’s motivations are not success or popularity, and her sincerity makes both her, and the film, thoroughly charming.
At once thought-provoking, mildly problematic, and witty, Spork is still, to date, the only English-language film about an intersex child. While it could have been better, perhaps with some more character development all around, it could also have been much worse. The subject of Spork’s gender is handled with sensitivity but not so much so that it becomes taboo, and being a children’s film, it navigates the subject of intersex people in such a way that one does not have to explain to minors (pre-teens and up) what’s happening on screen. It also opens the floor for parents to discuss the various permutations of gender, debunk the gender, and perhaps even spark a conversation on transgender issues. Punctuated by hilarious late80s-early90s fashion, some great musical numbers, well-time hilarity, Spork is a rare gem in children’s cinema.
I give this one 4 stars.