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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

We Need More Coming Of Age Films With Female Leads And Characters Of Color

Lately there has been a lot of attention paid to the new crop of coming of age films turning up everywhere , most recently The Way, Way Back and The Spectacular Now. I get it, we all want to revisit that warm and fuzzy (and sometimes awkward) time in our lives when we weren't quite sure who we were and what we wanted to become but we were excited--or fearful--about the possibilities.

But have you noticed that many of these films share one glaringly common theme among them? I'm talking about the fact that in most cases they're about young white males, or even their older--and apparently still directionless--counterparts. Michael Cera and Paul Rudd aren't the only ones who could play wondrously clueless wusses on screen. What about all the young girls who struggle with the pains of adolescence, or women who may for whatever reason be looking for a new beginning, or even the characters of color who must contend with a whole other set of challenges as they set out into the world on their own? They're inexplicably--and unforgivably--being overlooked.

While Hollywood has promoted and accepted this trend (relying on the fact that some of the themes may be universal), audiences are starting to take notice and voice their discontent about it. Black Girl Nerds posted a piece questioning Where Are All The Twenty-Something Black Actresses? The writer lamented over the fact that young actresses of color are rarely sought after for coming of age tales.You'll also notice that whenever many writers construct of list of the top coming of age films, you'd be hard pressed to find many (or any) where the main character is a female or of color.

So why the unbalance? Is there any need to rehash the fact that Hollywood's virtually unwavering focus on the white male goes far beyond the coming of age genre? While the industry timidly tries to break out of that pattern with films like Girl in Progress or The Kids Are all Right, the overwhelming number of white male films not only take precedence but are often the ones that garner more critical accolades.

I wonder whether the common misconception that females tend to be the more focused and mature gender has anything to do with their virtual absence in the genre. However, Kristen Wiig seems to be single-handedly fighting against that stereotype as she's carved out her very own "hilariously hot mess woman who desperately tries to get her act together" category of films. I'm just saying, it would be nice to see more stories like that of Eve's Bayou, Under the Tuscan Sun or Eat, Pray, Love (two imperfect films that at the very least more eloquently illuminate the term "coming of age."

And I don't know about you, but I am tired of the so-called coming of age stories featuring characters of color who "come of age" by taking part in some kind of a crime or witnessing something equally devastating. That image has been played to death and is just a crutch at this point (note: that angle is not restricted to films with characters of color, but still). With the critical success of Pariah, you'd think Hollywood would be interested in promoting similar films, ones that illuminate that the drama that comes along with growing pains is often triggered by internal not external circumstances.

Lets do better, Hollywood. It's 2013.


Gaby said...

This is SO true! Thank you for writing this. Hollywood seriously needs to start making more films like Pariah.

Chief said...

Aren't there a fair number of films like Mean Girls or Pitch Perfect out there or you speaking of dramas specifically?

Candice Frederick said...

I don't consider either of those films coming of age films...

outside dog said...

I don't want to sound like I'm defending Hollywood, but since we know they're going to be catering to white teenage boys for the foreseeable future, why aren't women and people of color writing their own coming of age screenplays, maybe grabbing a camera and filming a few scenes for a demo reel, and putting their projects on Kickstarter?

Maybe this is already happening and I'm just ignorant of it, but if you want this done, you're probably going to have to do it yourself, or find ways to encourage people with the talent to do it to do it themselves. It certainly seems like it would be a lot more effective than complaining about Hollywood until The Man does it for you.

Candice Frederick said...

you're right. These artists are struggling to get their films made and are not getting the proper support from various Hollywood channels. Many have started their own production companies to get them made, but they still don't get the public attention and financial backing they deserve. Instead, what does get the support are the films we persistently see.

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