The Guangzhou Transgender Center declined to screen the film, citing pressure from the local authorities. And although the film was made mostly at the students’ school, which is affiliated with Renmin University of China, with students playing most of the parts, school officials would not grant permission for public screenings on campus.
A representative of the school’s Communist Youth League gave two reasons, Ms. Hu said.
“One was it contained love scenes between students in our school’s uniforms,’’ she said. “The other was that the topic of transgenders was too avant-garde.”
Ms. Hu said she was inspired to make the film last winter, when she saw “Gender In, Bias Out,” a Chinese documentary about the problems faced by transgender people, including job discrimination, violence and securing medical services for sex reassignment.
Ms. Hu has long been interested in films and began helping out on film sets when she was in the eighth grade. “My parents and teachers always advised me not to pursue this because they assume making movies is very difficult for women,” she said.
More recently, she began thinking of making a film about embracing one’s true self. When she saw “Gender In, Bias Out,” she decided to combine this theme with the situation of transgender people in China.
“Sooner or later, everyone is likely to become a minority of one kind or another,’’ she said. “No one can escape this. For example, female directors are a minority.’’
In preparation, she interviewed transgender people and studied the online discussion site of the Guangzhou Transgender Center.
The lead actor was her classmate Zhang Yuge. He said the topic resonated with him because he had fallen in love with another boy.
“I expressed my true feelings when I was performing,’’ he said. Although he has told his father he is gay, he has never talked with his mother about it and was concerned about her reaction.
“When I heard I had to wear a cheongsam and look so feminine, I hesitated,’’ he said. “I was afraid about my mom seeing it.”
He correctly anticipated her reaction. After his mother, a physician, saw “Escape,” she said in the post-screening discussion that transgender and gay people were “psychologically twisted’’ and needed therapy.
Mr. Zhang especially identified with repeated scenes in the film where his character is shown trapped in a stairwell, unable to escape. He cowers on the ground shouting, “Let me out!’’
“When I performed that, I couldn’t help crying because I experienced that nightmare in real life,” Mr. Zhang said. As a high school freshman he agonized over his sexual orientation, he said. “Dark clouds pressed down at every moment.”
The student project has won praise from advocates.
“They are doing something that most high school students dare not do,’’ said Ling Wan, director of the Hubei Transgender Group.
Chen Xiyue, a transgender actress, applauded the film. “Not only can it promote a better understanding of transgenders,’’ she said, “but it also shows the power of students as a new force to defend L.G.B.T.Q. rights.”
Ms. Hu, who recently graduated from high school, is headed to the University of California, Los Angeles, where she will major in physics with a minor in filmmaking.
“I want to focus on some basic disciplines, like physics, to cultivate logical thinking and the ability to observe,’’ she explained. “I’m sure that a good film director has to have not just a command of technical skills, but a broad education.”
Her ambitions transcend filmmaking. “After I complete my studies and return to China, I want to work to change Chinese movies and even Chinese society,’’ she said. “Judging by viewer response, our film has really changed some people’s attitudes toward sexual minorities and even themselves. This is what I want.”