6 of the Best Black Coming-of-Age Films
If you’re a die-hard Black film fanatic like me, you probably love Black films that center on story lines on the trials and tribulations of surviving as a Black young adult, since we’re often so denied access to our narratives and stories in pop culture. These films are some of my absolute favorites, but they also serve to resonate with many of us due to situations and story lines that often mirror our lives and trauma.
1. Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.
Directed by Leslie Harris, this film centers on a 16-year-old girl named Chantel Mitchell, a high school junior, who’s woke AF about her circumstances as a broke Black girl trying to be more than “just another girl on the I.R.T.”! Chantel works hard in school to make sure she has straight As, works a job after school to make sure she can provide for herself as her family struggles financially and maintains pro-Blackness through her high school courses as she’s trying to become a doctor and escape her neighborhood and circumstances.
She ends up getting pregnant by her boyfriend unexpectedly, which defers her dream significantly. She struggles with the familial trauma of her mother being a teen mom, and that she will be another victim of the same hindrances that every Black girl in her hood is. She’s terrified making any final decisions around the baby — from considering an abortion (with the pressure of her boyfriend) to shutting out everyone in her life to hide the pregnancy. Her trials of dealing with poverty, antiblackness, health care access and the stigma of being another Black teen mom makes her story much more nuanced and complex.
Yoooooo! All Black queers unite because this film hits me right in the feels every time. This film is heavy, powerful and so necessary for all those who are Black and queer and have a difficult time coming out to our families and peers. The plot centers on Alike, a 17-year-old Black lesbian, who hangs out with her only friend, who’s also queer, named Laura. Alike, a writer and poet, struggles with a difficult home life in which her very strict mother and very disconnected father make it harder for her to live in her truth. She navigates coming into her gender performance by identifying more with butch aesthetics while maintaining to her mother that she wears “girls’ clothes.” Alike deals with romance, sex, trauma, mental anguish and intersecting identity politics heavily throughout the entire story in ways that resonate deeply with most Black queer folks struggling to exist.
3. Set It Off
This is my favorite movie ever, in life. Like… ever. This movie is actually an afrofuturistic film. The imagination of black women and femmes who were tired of being exploited and harmed by antiblack misogyny, with the additional storyline of police brutality and the murder of Stoney’s brother — they created a way to scam white supremacist capitalism the way it scammed them. They found joy in the survival mechanisms of reparation-based direct action organizing, sisterhood and dreaming of a world beyond the hood and violence they were used to.
TT was murdered trying to give her son a better life, Frankie died making a point that she was always worthy and didn’t do shit to nobody to deserve the bullshit she went through, Cleo died by suicide as a way to reclaim power and choice in a world that gave her none — while also taking out the cops when she went down shooting, and Stoney lived to tell the story but at the cost of everyone she loved. This movie will always remind me of the depth of the pain we suffer and will suffer trying to get free.
4. Bring It On
“I know you didn’t think a white girl made that shit up!” –Isis, AKA your fave!
This quote is the ultimate drag of the century, reminding white girls everywhere who appropriate, erase and steal Black culture off the backs of Black girls and femmes that you will be clocked. As we all know, Bring It On hella focuses way more on the white counterparts of the rivalry between the Rancho Carne Toros and the East Compton Clovers, but we know the truth: everyone loves The Clovers and the glorification of having Black girls in sports (and life) dominate with their power, strength, talent and rhythm in an arena denied to them due to antiblackness and poverty. This movie provides a sense of empowerment to all Black girls and femmes who are constantly denied visibility while constantly being stolen from by white girls. “Let’s beat these Buffys!”
5. Sister Act 2
“You down with G.O.D.? YEAH, YOU KNOW ME!” Honestly, the final act is reason enough to love this movie. (I have the song downloaded on my phone, lol.) But the story of Rita Watson (Lauryn Hill), an aspiring singer who navigates a difficult relationship with her mother who wants her to be more practical, is a story many Black girls and femmes know to be too true. In pursuing our dreams, often our dreams may seem out of reach or beyond our talents. This movie reminds us that our power and magic is always enough, and that we should be able to be our full selves with the support of those who love us.
I almost didn’t put this on the list because the film has literally 1 to 3 women in the entire plot (and they’re background characters), and even then, the story line primarily focuses on the relationship and friendship of four Black boys in the hood. But what’s amazing about this film is the fact that Bishop heavily resonates with me, due to the fact that he clearly deals with nuance of mental illness and levels of disassociation from reality/relationship building, while surviving a home with an absent mother and a father who’s a veteran traumatized by the war. The way each of the characters survives living in the hood, rival gangs and their interpersonal friendship as they navigate garnering power and status in their hood — hence “juice” — is what’s powerful to witness, dissect and resonate with.
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