Set in the rural Spanish countryside, Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren’s 20,000 Species of Bees centers on a transgender eight-year-old girl who happens to be visiting family over a weekend for the occasion of a christening. But while all others find themselves caught up in their own problems, this young girl is trying to find a way to articulate to them that she isn’t the boy they all think she is, but rather a girl named Lucía who wants to be understood as the person she knows herself to be.
It’s uncommon indeed to see a trans coming-of-age story so acutely in-tune to the subtle realities of growing with an understanding of your differences but not being able to put such variance into words. Lucía is often sullen, bristling at the use of her deadname or the more gender-neutral nickname “Coco” often employed by her family. She longs to be seen as Lucía, and while she may not know what the word transgender means, she knows that she’s a girl. Spending time among multiple generations of women in her family over the course of a few days helps her put this profound and essential femininity into focus.
But 20,000 Species of Bees wisely doesn’t focus on the struggles of facing bigotry so much as it does the struggle of understanding and articulating one’s self — to make others see you for who you are. It’s clear that her family doesn’t understand what she’s going through — some are even resistant to it (“We overindulged him,” sighs her father) — but the film focuses on Lucía’s own inner conflict in ways that are remarkably incisive. Just look to her anxiety over being called out in a women’s locker room, for example, or wearing a dress for the first time only to have the experience marred by her own worry over being judged, as evidence of the intuitive addresses of the film’s core concerns. Solaguren handles these moments with a disarming grace, in effect delivering one of the most sensitive, honest, and easily recollectable on-screen portrayals of gender dysphoria and growing up trans.
Young Sofía Otero recently won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for her work here — and it’s easy to see why. Although cisgender herself, as a performer she seems remarkably in tune with the material and her character’s journey, displaying an impressive talent for a girl of only nine. While the film itself is at times almost too understated for its own good, there’s something quite lovely about the way it allows its young transgender protagonist to learn about womanhood in its myriad forms and struggles from the older women in her life. It is, if anything, a testament to the resilience of unadulterated womanhood, separating the idea of femininity from any physical characteristics or understanding of it as a state of being. Other filmmakers who want to explore what it means to be transgender, or indeed even what it means to be a woman, would be wise to take note of Solaguren’s nuanced and empathetic portrait.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 8.5.