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 in search of a coming-of-age movie that captures the essence of what it feels like to grow up as a BIPOC or in BIPOC communities, it was difficult to find even a few films that featured people who looked like me or shared similar experiences. Throughout the loads of websites I researched to find new movies, they all seemed to recycle the same recommended films. Most, if not all, lacked actors of any minority background.  

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 absorbing and appreciating the film. 

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. So here are 5 coming-of-age movies starring people of color I think you will all enjoy.

Moonlight

Moonlight chronicles the beautiful, heartbreaking 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 one of my favorite movies. The cinematography alone is a good enough reason for you to watch it. The simple yet compelling storyline resonates with the many black children, particularly males, who feel alienated and struggle to comprehend who they are in such a hostile environment. Moonlight encompasses how frightening and complex finding one’s sexuality and identity can be, especially when you’re a dark-skinned Black boy living in an impoverished area. 

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

Your Name  Engraved Herein takes place in 1987, as Taiwan’s martial law ends, and Jia-han and Birdy fall in love despite family pressure, homophobia, and social stigma.

The actors’ chemistry in this movie is incredible. The emotions and tensions depicted in this film are what really drew me in. I could nearly feel all of the emotions of love, desire, confusion, and sadness as I watched the film.

Aside from the handsome male leads and alluring cinematography, this coming-of-age drama explores themes of bromance, friendship, and a nostalgic first-love kind of romance that many young people wish to experience at some point in their lives.

Slumdog Millionaire 

Slumdog Millionaire follows Jamal Malik, a Mumbai teenager, as he recounts his life after being accused of cheating on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The film explores the harsh realities that some children in the slums of India face and the lifestyles they are forced to adopt in order to survive. 

I love this movie because it is emotionally engaging. The shaky camera work in the gameshow or slum scenes does a great job of expressing the feelings the scene evokes. Not to add how amazing the actors that portray the characters’ younger selves were! You almost feel like you’re there with them as they journey through India’s slums. From the amazing sub-plots and superb acting from the younger versions of the characters, you really end up feeling for Jamal and hoping he wins in the end!!

Oh and the soundtrack slaps! 

City of God 

This phenomenal Brazilian crime film follows two young men on differing paths, one documenting the increasing drug-related violence in his neighborhood and the other aspiring to be a drug dealer.

The storytelling and cinematography are my favorite facets of this film. City of God is an impressive work of art that is both remarkably artistic and also extremely raw & gritty. I like how the film is narrated and how much tension each scene creates.

This riveting film depicts the violence that forces children to choose a life of crime, brutality, and murder as if it were their only option. 

Better Days 

Grab your tissues for this one, it’s an emotional rollercoaster. Better Days is a Chinese drama about 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.

This movie is 2 hours of cinematic excellence. I love how the relationship between the two main characters is portrayed as a platonic, pure form of love, which makes the movie even more satisfying to watch. Additionally, this drama raises much-needed awareness around bullying and the fact that it is everyone’s duty to stop it. From the portrayal of willful bystanders and unhelpful faculty to the police and negligent family members, this drama exposes the grave consequences bullying can bring forth and how damaging it is to society. 

Better Days is relatable, heart-wrenching, and incredibly raw and impactful. Its twists and turns will have you at attention the whole time.