COLORS OF TOBI follows a Hungarian family supporting their son, Tobi, as he becomes an adult and explores his gender identity. Alexa Bakony’s documentary focuses on the relationship between Tobi and his mother, Éva, as they navigate a maze of Hungarian bureaucracy for gender changes, shifting norms of gender presentation and identification, and their own complex feelings about one another. The film is a beautiful and intimate documentary that says something important about the family’s potential to be a locus of support, love, and trust for LGBTIQ+ people.
At the start of the film, Tobi is living as a trans man. His mother supports him by helping to fill out the forms needed for state recognition of Tobi’s gender and name, by taking him to doctors to discuss surgeries, and talking to him about LGBTIQ+ identities and his identity. But there’s tension at points in the relationship: when Éva openly prefers Tobi’s girly photos and when she slips up by accidentally deadnaming him or referring to Tobi as a potential mother at the doctor’s office. Éva, in turn, gets frustrated that Tobi focuses on these mistakes rather than the masses of work and support that she gives her son.
Bakony has crafted an incredibly intimate documentary that provides a highly personal look into a family struggling with gender identity and the issues around a teenager becoming an adult and preparing to move away to university. The camera follows the family at birthday parties and Tobi’s high school graduation ceremony, as well as at medical appointments and in the home. Through this intimate access, we get to see how the family support Tobi on an everyday level. The everydayness of the family’s routines and communication with one another is heartwarming and central to the documentary’s themes of family support for LGBTIQ+ people.
Despite being situated in Hungary, the film feels completely universal. There are LGBTIQ+ young people worldwide in the same situation as Tobi, and there are also families supporting their children in the same way as Éva and Zoltán. In the context of watching the film at a UK-based film festival, it’s upsetting to think that trans young people face similar hostility in the UK as that briefly shown at Hungarian Pride marches.
As the film progresses, Tobi grapples with the socially constructed nature of the masculine gender norms that he’s adopted and discovers himself as non-binary. In an emotional scene after his graduation, he tells his parents that he doesn’t need to idolise masculinity and wants to live without labels. Éva struggles to process another change in her child, from lesbian to trans man to non-binary and finds it easier to translate the English expression ‘non-binary’ into a Hungarian word that the subtitles translate as ‘genderless’. The documentary ends with a meeting in a Budapest coffee shop where Éva expresses that she’s still processing Tobi’s identity but, despite that, accepts and supports Tobi for who he is.
The message that sticks after watching COLORS OF TOBI is how much family support and love can mean to someone working to find themselves. When Tobi’s parents go to a Pride march carrying a placard reading “Team of supportive parents”, we see how important it is for Hungary to see families supporting LGBTIQ+ family members and that this familial support can push for change in the country. The documentary positions everyday communication, love, and trust as key to a solid and supportive family. When governments across the world threaten LGBTIQ+ rights, that message is important.