“The True Adventures of Wolfboy” follows a young boy named Paul (Jaeden Martell) who has Hypertrichosis, a rare condition causing excessive hair growth on the face that’s sometimes called “werewolf syndrome.” On his 13th birthday, Paul receives a note from his estranged mother after a fight with his well-meaning dad (Chris Messina), and sets off to find her. In his epic journey, he encounters a nefarious carnival master (John Turturro), a pink-haired modern-day pirate (Eve Hewson), and a wise-beyond-her-years trans girl who practically glows from the power of unabashed self love.
Radiating an otherworldly confidence, Aristiana (Sophie Giannamore) is the most important character in Paul’s journey to self-acceptance. She is the rare example of a young trans character standing fully in her power, whose arc is as far from the transition narrative as Paul is from home. While “Wolfboy” will surely resonate with anyone who has ever felt different or out of place, Aristiana’s prominence seals the film’s trans allegory — and it’s the heart of what makes it such an inspiring and tender coming-of-age fairytale.
“Obviously all interpretations are valid, but I will say for me personally, it was written absolutely as trans allegory. …which hopefully resonates with everyone, but will have a special resonance to queer and trans, especially young people who view it,” screenwriter Olivia Dufault said during a recent phone interview.
As a trans woman and playwright making her feature screenwriting debut with “Wolfboy,” Dufault said it was important that the allegory not be so subtle that it could be easily overlooked.
“I’m all about Trojan-horsing in my personal complicated ideas, but it was always important for me to have [Aristiana] there, because a lot of times when you do use allegories, it can end up erasing marginalized people,” she said. “From the gestation process, it was always very important that Paul encountered a young trans girl who was emblematic of a level of self-acceptance and resilience that he had yet to master himself.”
Giannamore, a facile young actress who imbues Aristiana with elegance and wisdom, said “Wolfboy” offered a deeply unique perspective. “You don’t see a lot of transgender stories told through the lens of a transgender person and written by a trans person,” she said. “So it’s really special.”
The writer and actor come to the industry from different viewpoints and experiences, with Dufault as a New York playwright and Giannamore as a child actor on “Transparent” and “The L Word: Generation Q,” both witnessed the recent progress in Hollywood’s transgender storytelling.
“I’ve worked in television and film for the past four years,” said Dufault. “I worked on two TV shows, [AMC’s ‘Preacher’ and FX’s ‘Legion’]. Even in that time, I’ve seen progress in terms of both personally how I’m being treated, but also how trans stories are being presented.”
Giannamore said while scripts are improving, her on-set experiences have not always been so positive. “The scripts have gotten so much better and so much more real to the trans experience,” she said. “From the beginning of my career, I would get scripts that I didn’t like or I was uncomfortable with. …I have definitely been on a projects like that. …It can be tough [to] feel like you’re being treated like, you know, a spectacle.”
Both Dufault and Ginnamore would love to see a shift away from narratives that focus on the medical aspect of transition, which is dehumanizing and does not represent the entirety of trans experience. (They both singled out “Pose” as one of their favorite shows, and a mark of progress made for trans stories.) “Wolfboy” also received passionate support from Turturro served as executive producer, and from Chloë Sevigny, who plays a supporting role.
“I really hope that in 10, 20 years we see trans people all over TV shows, and it’s not necessarily a plot point that they’re transgender,” said Giannamore.
“It’s obviously important to have trans characters portrayed by trans actors, but I really want to see more trans representation behind the scenes: Trans writers, trans directors, trans producers, and trans network executives,” said Dufault. “I think there are just so many stories to be told that are both centered on and adjacent to the trans experience. And I think the only way to do so in an honest, interesting way is to incorporate that sort of trans talent behind the camera, and ideally have people backing it from the beginning to understand and share those experiences.”
“The True Adventures of Wolfboy” is currently available on VOD from Vertical Entertainment.