Adolescence is arguably one of the hardest and most complex time in a person’s life. During this stage, people must learn to balance rigorous schoolwork that they are told will determine the rest of their lives, raging hormones that force them to feel everything with an extra dose of intensity, and navigate through the often complicated relationships they share with family members. It is also at this time that people long for their identity and a place in society that they can find comfort in.
For some, it’s a band that speaks to a part of them no one else seems to understand, or the one book an English teacher forces them to read that ends up leaving an everlasting impression on how they view the world. One of the most popular forms of material that many teens have been able to find solace in has without a doubt been coming of age films. Movies that are specifically told through the lenses of teens often provide them with a sense of self in another character.
As movies such as Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird continue to receive critical acclaim and recognition at prominent award shows, they reiterate the importance of telling diverse and perplex stories that display the minds, emotions, and experiences of those maneuvering through adolescence. Coming of age stories allow teenagers to understand identity, discover a reference tool for the problems they may encounter along the way, and present relatable motion pictures.
Although the end result of watching a coming of age film is often positive, there are certain vital areas filmmakers routinely overlook. Perhaps the greatest importance of coming of age films is a willingness to feature unparalleled narratives that are often left untold in media. While movies such as Clueless and The Virgin Suicides deliver excellent storytelling skills, it’s hard not to forget the lack of light shined on the stories of minorities. Too often do we see a lack of representation of people of color in films, and one of the most crucial areas they must be interpreted is in films following boy and girl hood. Furthermore, when people of color in these films are depicted they are usually reduced to the status of the best friend or sidekick that provides moral support for the main character– never the starring role. Just as much as films that represent white and straight teens impact those who identify with such characters, it sends an equally strong message to those who don’t.
When these films lack accurate and complex portrayals of minorities, it subconsciously sends a message that being a minority in society extends to the big screen. In an industry that prides itself on providing raw tales, it often drops the ball when it comes to perpetuating the same passion for the lives of young minorities. They do so by transmitting a subtle yet significant memo that all they will ever be as a minority is a secondary character whose backstory is never cared enough about to be told. That the five lines they speak are only included to fulfill the needs of the much more noteworthy white main character.
The consequences of this unfortunate practice can be extremely pernicious given how influential these films can be and how difficult adolescence is. As writers and directors continue to exclude minorities from extensive storytelling they administer a deep disservice in society. Outstandingly, coming of age films depict the obstacles teens face when searching for a clear understanding of oneself. At a time that people are most hungry for someone or something that speaks and understands them specifically, it can be a heartbreaking experience for those who never find their other half on screen. When filmmakers fail to serve audience members characters they can identify with, they essentially put tape over the mouths of minorities whose obstacles never see the light of day. In a society that encompasses such a wide array of cultures and perspectives, it is imperative that more filmmakers point camera lenses in their direction.
Minority teens deserve to be fed films that feature people of color whose lines are so much more than background noise, and who don’t let the internal and external forces of society determine who they become. They need characters who embody their unique experiences, not ones that are simply there to provide a punchline.
As minority teens live through the years of feeling misunderstood and confused, coming of age films have the opportunity to be a mental compass and beacon of hope in their most trying times. Filmmakers have the huge responsibility of executing films that strike a nerve with its audience members. Coming of age filmmakers have the even bigger responsibility of delivering a warm hug in the form of a film to those who are yearning for one most.