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Muse

Elvis Inspires a Short Film about Gender Identity

In the trailer for the short film GraceLand, a young child stands over a bathroom sink and determinedly snips off chunks of their hair. They plaster down what remains with a slick of dark shoe polish. Grace’s mom thinks her child is just another cute 10-year-old girl; Grace knows different. They believe they are the reincarnation of rock ’n’ roll legend Elvis Presley.

Bonnie Discepolo (’03), the cowriter and director of the film, says the idea for Grace came to them fully formed. “It was as if this boy just walked into my consciousness and was right there, fully realized, and saying, ‘They think I’m a girl, but actually, I’m a boy and I’m Elvis.’”

GraceLand, which was released in August 2020, stars Katie Beth West as 10-year-old Grace/Elvis and Pitch Perfect’s Anna Camp as their mother, Prissy. The film focuses on Prissy’s struggle to accept that Grace identifies as the King of Rock ’n’ Roll.

GraceLand is close to Discepolo’s heart. They grew up in South Carolina, where they participated in theater as a child with Camp and actress Monique Coleman, who plays a teacher in the film. They received a South Carolina Film Commission Indie Grant to shoot the film in Charleston. “Growing up in the South, it felt very personal to be misunderstood and misidentified,” Discepolo says. “I was interested in rewriting what it would look like if the parents and the teachers, the authority figures, went on the emotional journey to do the changing, if the child was able to just say, ‘This is who I am.’”

Watch the trailer for Bonnie Discepolo’s GraceLand, starring Anna Camp and Katie Beth West. Video courtesy Discepolo

 

Discepolo thought of the film’s premise while they were working on filmmaker Robert Rodriguez’s television series Rebel Without a Crew. As part of the series, they were among five filmmakers tasked with making a film in 14 days with a $7,000 budget. They were in the middle of shooting a particularly gory scene when, Discepolo says, “I just thought, ‘Gosh, that was really dark. The next movie I do, I want to bring joy into the world.’ And immediately, little Elvis walked into my mind’s eye.” From that kernel of an idea, the rest of the film emerged. GraceLand took about a year and a half to finish.

So why Elvis? “I thought, ‘What if a trans child showed up and wasn’t just saying that they’re a boy, but also that they were the reincarnation of a music icon that is revered specifically by the people who are not accepting?’” Discepolo says.

After wrapping up GraceLand, Discepolo has been juggling a few projects. They are hoping to get back into acting and have been writing a film about the first female cosmonaut. Discepolo is also collaborating with GraceLand cowriter Trevor Munson on a feature-length version of the film. “The pandemic has given me time to write, so I’m focusing on what I can do, so that when we get out of quarantine, I have material to film.”