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Discovery of 'Gay Gene' Imagined in NYU Student Film

By Andrea Swalec | February 8, 2013 9:14am

MANHATTAN — What would happen if scientists discovered a "gay gene"?

That's the premise of a short film by one NYU undergraduate with big idea.

Tisch School of the Arts student Cyrus Toulabi, 21, launched a Kickstarter campaign Monday for a 20-minute-long film called "The Gene," which envisions the discovery of a genetic source for homosexuality and the political fight over finding a "cure."

"If it were absolutely clear that being gay were not a choice, what would that mean for the world?" said Toulabi, a Highland Park, Ill., native who lives in the East Village, in an interview.

"The Gene," which Toulabi and a 20-person crew of NYU students and alumni plan to shoot this spring, begins a year after a fictional doctor discovers the "gay gene" and learns that her company is developing a drug that would eliminate homosexuality. Grappling with betrayal, she needs to decide whether to stand by her employer or try to stop the drug from being released.

Though the film will get its start at NYU, Toulabi wants it to reach far beyond the school's Greenwich Village campus. He's aiming to have it shown at festivals internationally.

"We're planning on going everywhere with this," he said.

Toulabi and company are seeking $6,500 in funding via Kickstarter, which will be used to rent a camera and lighting equipment, feed the volunteer crew and cover the cost of office space they'll need to rent to use as a set. Already, they've raised more than $1,000.

According to Kickstarter, 17 films that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year got their start with campaigns on the fundraising site.

The project took shape for Toulabi, who said he's had a lifelong interest in science, when he read last year that DNA contains more information than scientists previously thought.

"I started thinking, what if this [gay] gene really existed and it put the nature-versus-nurture issue to rest?" he said. "Who would have discovered this and how would they have reacted?" 

"The Gene" focuses on sexual orientation, but its ideas apply to lots of human situations, Toulabi said.

"The larger issue is, can we help who we are?"