Coming of Age, but Make it Black
A film genre I believe gets very whitewashed is the coming of age film. Those films showcase the growth of the protagonist from childhood to adulthood, mostly centered in their most formative years. Think Moonlight, Edge of Seventeen, Booksmart, Superbad, Thirteen. These films sometimes, but not all the time, focus on white teens going through their struggles in their suburban life. I believe these types of dramas are very important stories, but I would like to see some color in the lead role and not as a one-off character or the best friend role.
Now, I know those movies are considered classics and I happen to really enjoy those films, but damn. Do they only think black stories are just black people always struggling? Or do black stories matter when you have a white person coming to save the negroes? It’s exhausting.
It’s time to highlight movies that show the modern black experience with complex and nuanced takes. No more movies with white saviors and blacks being slaves. If you want to know what it’s like to be black in today’s America, these films will surely highlight it. Here are two examples of black coming of age movies that I recently watched that truly capture what I am talking about.
Selah and the Spades
Selah and the Spades is the coming of age film we needed that we didn’t know we need. Written and directed by Tayarisha Poe, Selah and the Spades explores the inner world of a prestigious boarding school, ruled by underground factions. Selah is the head of the strongest faction, the Spades. They are basically
drug pushers of the whole school, with Selah as the kingpin. The movie revolves around Selah trying to find her successor when she graduates. She finds Pamola Davis, the new k
id in school who Selah believes has the potential to be the new leader of the spades. Now, what makes this movie such a refreshing watch is how complex Selah is. She is a character that is allowed to feel her feelings, who doesn’t have to use her sexuality to show power, who is unapologetic about her blackness. You normally see traits like this in white female characters in movies like this.
One of my favorite scenes is when Paloma is asked to photographer Selah and her cheerleading squad. Selah gives this speech about the autonomy of a young woman’s body, how you have to hold on tight to the control you have as a 17-year-old girl. It’s powerful. It’s a speech that, in my opinion, is required viewing for all teens growing up during this time. She talks about how they decide what their uniforms are going to look like, how they are going to wear their hair and no one can tell them otherwise.
The “unfriendly black hottie” done right. Even with the main three characters being black, their plotline is not solely just being black and trying to find space at the school. Their problems are much more complex.
Like I said earlier, Selah is a complex character you can’t help but like. Her actions may be questionable during the second and third acts of the film, but if you were the school’s most powerful faction, you would do whatever it takes to hold on to that power.
I don’t know what to label this movie, to be completely honest. It has more to it than just being a drama, but a psychological thriller may be going too far.
Luce is directed and written by Julius Onah and follows Luce, an all-star student who was adopted from a war-to
rn country in African by a white suburban couple. His teacher becomes when he writes an essay that seems just a bit troubling.
This movie deals with so many themes including black identity, the standards put on you as a student, the white savior narrative, how we handle the trauma from our past, and the pressure to be anything more than just a stereotype. Pro
bably one of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Luce is practicing giving his next big speech and as he is saying all these positives about his life, you see him cry through the pain. It’s a hard scene to watch because you feel his pain and all the pressure his entire community has put on him.
Another powerful moment is when his parents question whether they are doing right by their son. They wanted to adopt a child to give him a better life, no matter what challenges came to them. The father brings up an interesting point when he questions his wife on whether adopting Luce was for him or best for their egos. It really gets into the “white savior” complex and has them answer harsh truths.
The climax of the movie is when Luce finally confronts his teacher about why she treats him differently than the other black students. She only wants the best for him and doesn’t want him to end up like the other black students at the school. He questions why she put him in that box and she counterargues with him that he placed himself in that box.
The themes in this movie alone make this film stand out from other films I’ve seen. Definitely a film worth watching, especially during the times we are living through right now.
All I am asking for in Hollywood is to allow black storytellers to tell stories about their reality. Coming of age films always seem to show
case the white experience. And although I love some of those films, it would be nice to see… myself in some of these roles. But those are two examples of coming of age films that I believe showcase the black experience in the new decade. So, if you stumbled on this b
log and want to recommend your favorite black coming of age films, please let me know! My DMs on Twitter are open and would love to hear some suggestions.
Well, I’m Taylor and I have Moore to say.