20,000 Species of Bees was inspired by a trans teen’s suicide – but it centres joy, not tragedy

20,000 Species of Bees director on the inspiration behind the trans film.

Spanish film director Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren’s latest project, 20,000 Species of Bees, is a “luminous, bright film”, offering hope to transgender youngsters everywhere, despite the sad tale that inspired it.

The film, which premieres at the London Film Festival this month, made lead star Sofía Otero, then just nine years old, the youngest recipient of the prestigious Berlin Film Festival’s Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize, and is making waves for transgender representation in the Spanish film industry.

Set in Solaguren’s home community in Northern Spain’s Basque country, this intimate portrait follows eight-year-old trans girl Lucía (Otero), who finds the confidence to be her true self over the course of one summer, and the lives of three generations of women living in the same household.

In an interview with The Guardian, the director talked about the inspiration behind her debut feature and the state of transgender rights in Spain.

The seeds for the film were sown when Solaguren read about the suicide of a 16-year-old trans boy, who had left behind a note in which he dreamt of a better, more accepting world.

“He said he was making this decision to shine some light on people in his situation, for visibility,” the filmmaker said. “He was accepted by his family, but he was suffering a lot. It’s very sad.”

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When Solaguren approached a local support group for trans children and their families, she met the bereaved parents, although she refrained from speaking to them at first. “I didn’t want to look like a person trying to benefit from their pain,” she explained. “To be like: ‘That happened. Here’s a story’. I didn’t want to do that.”

After speaking to about 20 families from the local community, the film started to take shape by focusing on joy instead of tragedy. The cast includes a mix of trans and cis children, although their gender identities have not been made public on the advice of lawyers.

“What some of these families were telling me was that it wasn’t the kids who had changed,” she said. “The kids were the same all the time. What had changed was the others’ gaze. The transformation is the way that we look at these kids, no?

“I want to make a luminous, bright film, so trans kids also could have a healthy reference, not [a character] who would suffer or die or be a problem for their families.”

While the various characters face challenges, there is an optimism and acceptance that permeates throughout. This lies in sharp contrast to the polarising debate around trans rights currently being seen in Spain.

“In Spain, the issue has become a weapon politically. But we are talking about real people, struggling with real difficulties,” Solaguren noted.

However, positive strides are being made following the election of Spain’s first openly trans senator, Carla Antonelli, who has pledged to protect LGBTQ+ rights.

20,000 Species of Bees will be screened at the London Film Festival on 10 and 15 October, before going on general release from 27 October.