One of the recurrent themes of films entered in the International category of the Academy Awards for 2020 was the struggle of gay men to achieve acceptance in countries that are hostile to homosexuality. In Indonesia, for showings of Memories of My Body, and in Georgia, for showings of the Swedish film And Then We Danced, law enforcement had to be brought out to protect the audiences. The films from Bangladesh (Alpha), Bolivia (I Miss You), Peru (Retablo) and Taiwan (Dear Ex) all deal with this subject. And Being Impossible from Venezuela is about a young woman who discovers that she had operations as a child because of her gender ambiguity. However, Everybody Changes (Todos Cambiamos) from Panama stands out for its treatment of transsexuality.
Federico Ponce (Arantxa de Juan) lives in the small town of Bambito. He is a businessman who gets along well with his colleagues and employees. He and his wife, Carol (Gaby Gnazzo), have three sons. The family is close. Federico and Carol have a game they play. Once a week, Federico dresses up as a woman, “Lizzie,” and they pretend to be two girlfriends out together for dinner and gossip.
But Federico has had enough of such playing; he wants to become a woman by having a sex change operation. Needless to say, this causes quite a bit of upheaval in his family and among his town’s more intolerant Catholics. His eldest son, Mario (Jassiel), is particularly outraged and embarrassed. Fortunately, his girlfriend is more understanding and introduces Mario to literature on the subject. Gradually, despite harassment from the outside, love of family overcomes all else, and Carol and their boys support Federico/Lizzie.
But then another obstacle appears. No one in Panama has the expertise to perform the operation. So Federico/Lizzie goes to Thailand…accompanied by Mario.
I saw this film as part of the Latin American Nomination Screenings Series in Hollywood. After the screening, 11-year-old Juan José De Abreu, who plays Federico’s younger son, told the audience that after the film came out in Panama, he was bullied at school for merely acting in it. Then a 15-year-old audience member named Justin, who had been thrown out of his home by his father for being trans, thanked the filmmakers for helping him feel less alone.
Although Everybody Changes is about transsexuality, writer-director Arturo Montenegro has made it known that he hopes the film will also serve to increase tolerance of minorities in general.