5 must-watch Coming of Age Movies Starring BIPOC Actors

by Esther omolola

Have you ever looked for a movie to watch and just couldn’t find what you were looking for?

As a young black woman, it can be challenging to find coming-of-age films that truly capture the essence of growing up in a minority community. Even with countless websites and recommendations, it often seems like the same films are being recycled and none of them feature actors that resemble me or share similar experiences.

The majority of coming-of-age films marketed to us feature white actors and revolve around experiences that most minorities, including myself, cannot relate to. Mainstream movies, from Clueless and Easy A to Heathers and the Breakfast Club,  often lack something that prevents me from fully connecting with them.

Watching a character who not only looks like you but also goes through the same growing pains as you is the comfort you didn’t know you needed. Representation in media matters. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of five coming-of-age films starring people of color that I believe you will enjoy. 


One of them is Moonlight, a beautiful and heart-wrenching story of a young black man as he grapples with his sexuality and identity while dealing with the typical struggles of childhood, adolescence, and emerging adulthood. The story is told across three pivotal periods of his life.

This movie is a personal favorite of mine and the cinematography alone is a compelling reason to watch it. The straightforward yet powerful storyline resonates with many black children, particularly males, who feel disconnected and struggle to understand their identity in a hostile environment. Moonlight illustrates the fear and complexity of discovering one’s sexuality and identity, especially for a dark-skinned Black boy growing up in poverty.

Moonlight is a must-watch. The rawness and emotion this film elicits is something you’ll simply have to see for yourself. 


Your Name Engraved Herein is a poignant and thought-provoking film that takes place in Taiwan in 1987, during the waning days of martial law. The story centers around the romantic relationship between Jia-han and Birdy, two young men who must navigate a complex web of familial expectations, societal stigma, and outright homophobia in order to be together.

One of the most striking elements of the film is the incredible chemistry between the lead actors, which imbues the story with a powerful sense of emotional depth and intensity. As I watched the film, I felt myself fully immersed in the characters’ experiences, feeling their love, desire, confusion, and sadness as if they were my own.

Beyond the handsome male leads, compelling performances, and stunning cinematography, the film also delves into a number of thought-provoking themes, including bromance, friendship, and the nostalgia of first love. These themes are particularly resonant for many young people, who may relate to the struggles and triumphs of Jia-han and Birdy as they navigate their way through the complexities of love and self-discovery.

Slumdog Millionaire 

Slumdog Millionaire is a powerful and emotionally charged film that tells the story of Jamal Malik, a Mumbai teenager who is falsely accused of cheating on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” The film offers a stark and unflinching examination of the harsh realities that many children living in the slums of India are forced to confront on a daily basis, and delves into the often-grim lifestyles that they must adopt in order to survive.

One of the things that I find particularly compelling about this film is its emotional engagement. The shaky camera work and raw cinematography used in the gameshow and slum scenes effectively convey the feelings of uncertainty and struggle that these characters are facing. Additionally, the performances of the actors who portray the younger versions of the characters are truly remarkable, and serve to fully immerse the viewer in the story, making it feel as if we are right there alongside Jamal and his friends as they journey through the slums of Mumbai.

From the masterfully crafted sub-plots, to the superb acting of the younger versions of the characters, Slumdog Millionaire is a film that truly makes you care about Jamal and root for him to succeed. It is a moving and deeply affecting work that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.

Oh, and the soundtrack slaps! 

City of God 

City of God, a Brazilian crime film, is a tour de force of storytelling and visual artistry. The film tells the story of two young men who find themselves on opposite sides of the criminal spectrum, one documenting the escalating drug-related violence in his neighborhood and the other determined to become a successful drug dealer.

One of the most striking elements of this film is its masterful use of cinematography and storytelling. The film is a true work of art, seamlessly blending raw, gritty realism with moments of striking visual beauty. The film’s non-linear narrative structure, which is anchored by the character of the narrator, adds to the tension and urgency of the story, drawing the viewer deeply into the world of the characters.

City of God is a powerful and thought-provoking film that offers a stark and unflinching examination of the violence that forces many children living in the slums of Brazil to choose a life of crime, brutality, and murder as if it were their only option. It is a film that will leave a lasting impression on viewers.

Better Days 

Grab your tissues for this one, it’s an emotional rollercoaster. Better Days is a Chinese drama film that is both emotionally powerful and socially impactful. The story centers around a teenage girl who is bullied and forms an unlikely friendship with a small-time juvenile criminal who protects her from her aggressors while she deals with the stress of her final exams. The film masterfully portrays the complex relationship between the two main characters as a platonic, pure form of love, which adds a deeper layer of meaning to the story.

This film is an excellent example of cinematic excellence, clocking in at two hours of expertly crafted storytelling. The film also serves as an important reminder of the devastating consequences of bullying and the importance of taking action to combat it. The film effectively exposes the role of willful bystanders, unhelpful faculty, and negligent family members in perpetuating the cycle of bullying and its grave effects on society.

Better Days is a relatable, heart-wrenching and incredibly raw and impactful film that will keep you at the edge of your seat with its twists and turns. It is a powerful reminder of the importance of empathy and the power of friendship in overcoming even the most difficult of challenges.