From “Sixteen Candles” to “Lady Bird,” coming-of-age movies have been around for decades. However, the depiction of teen life Hollywood has painted over the past decades fails to portray the adolescence of traditionally marginalized minorities.
Only 14 of the top movies in 2015 had an underrepresented lead or co-lead. Nine of those were Black, one was Latino and four were of mixed race. According to a study done by USC Annenberg, none of the lead or co-lead positions were played by an Asian actor.
The study further explains that of the 100 top films featured in 2015, only 32 named or speaking roles were folk from the LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, only 2.4% of the 2015 movies featured a named or speaking character with a disability.
“As a Latina watching Sofia Vergara on [“Modern Family,” I have to admit the character] is hilarious but doesn’t truly represent me … it’s just stereotypical,” Leia Gomez, a Maywood Center for Enriched Studies junior said.
Gomez believes that Hollywood can improve its diversity by stopping its stereotypes and toxic caricatures.
“Hollywood has a veil of inclusivity. They’re like ‘Oh yeah! We have an Asian person — that’s good.’ But there’s so much more that needs to be done,” Kim Perfecto, a MaCES chemistry and physics teacher said. “I can’t think of a single coming-of-age movie that has a Latinx person or trans person as the center character.”
Perfecto explains that the film industry often views non-white cultures — specifically Asian cultures — as a monolith. “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” features Lona Condor, a Vietnamese actress, as a half-Korean teen in the movie series.
Perfecto also expresses the danger of the “token minority trope” utilized immensely in coming-of-age movies.
“The reason why ‘The Breakfast Club’ was so popular was because they had a room full of teenagers that were all different, and you were able to choose who you were in that scenario — people of color never had that option,” Perfecto said.
Nevertheless, she does believe the industry is getting better at being inclusive. However, the only way to truly fix what Hollywood lacks is to have BIPOC individuals and other people of color actually casting, filming, producing and acting in mainstream cinema.
“Every single movie, except for “The Goonies,” portrayed the kids with asthma as the pathetic kids,” David Nolasco, world history and United States government teacher at MaCES said.
Nolasco expresses annoyance towards the meek asthmatic depiction in film. Growing up with asthma himself, the trope could not be farther from the truth.
It is no secret that Hollywood’s coming-of-age movies often negate the stories of BIPOC, queer, and non-disabled teen adolescence.
“That’s what blows my mind about Hollywood … they’re still afraid to tackle those issues,” Perfecto said.
In terms of BIPOC inclusivity, Nolasco believes Hollywood must improve at casting non-white folks as protagonists and creating more realistic teen stories.
“The plot does not have to involve too many real-life issues that deal with money,” Nolasco said. “Tell stories that matter to the audience — not just some story about a crush, or a friendship gone bad.”
Nolasco said he believes business follows honesty and he wants the industry to create films that reflect the complexities of adolescence. He suspects that consumers would be more interested in watching those stories unfold.