Holden Caulfield does not represent all of us.
Boyhood sucks. There I said it.
I think Boyhood’s perpetual issue is that a majority of its largely forgettable protagonist’s issues are incredibly inconsequential. There’s nothing about his life that’s particularly relatable or noteworthy. Or maybe instead, that’s what the problem is–that his life is too relatable to the point where the film is just boring. What does he learn? How does he take his childhood into his adulthood? The only growth we see onscreen is physical, and maybe that’s why director Richard Linklater decided to film it over the course of 12 years—so at least we could see the change.
Maybe we need to see stories that are equally like our own and unlike our own to learn more about others experiences and to then use that information as we go out into the world. Coming-of-age is a crucial aspect of life, and it’s justifiably represented across art and culture. However, while literature seems to represent a spectrum of identities in coming-of-age fiction and memoirs, the same cannot be said for film and television. We’ve been universally taught the experiences of white, straight, cisgender men; yet the majority of the country does not fall under that identity. Think of a coming-of-age movie or television show. Who’s the lead? A likeable young white guy that charms his way to the end of the movie, in the process learning life’s great mysteries about high school, adulthood, alcohol, pot, and sex?
That isn’t to say the experiences of white, straight, cis-gender men aren’t valid, but we are oversaturated with these narratives. A story like Boyhood can only exist in a collection of films that are all told from the same perspective. For what purpose, too? As underrepresented groups know and understand, our identities crucially and fundamentally shape the way that we come-of-age, so why can’t we see stories that we actually relate to?
Googling “coming of age films” will present you with many titles, all of which are overwhelmingly white. A majority of these films are also led by men, almost all of whom are straight and cis-gendered. So what is causing this divide, especially when coming of age films about straight white cis men seem to be incredibly formulaic?
They’re also very situational; the coming-of-age genre almost entirely involves a situation or event that changes the character’s life. They either meet someone incredibly unique that disrupts the way they currently live their life, or some twist of fate occurs that dramatically alters their future, or sometimes even both. The general message usually being, don’t take life for granted, or live life to the fullest. The coming of age genre in film/TV thrives on this bland and trite message, one that doesn’t tell us anything new or interesting.
Sure, we’re starting to see a bit of a shift now. As our screens diversify and performers with various identities take the center stage, we’re starting to see a bit of much needed change. Barry Jenkins’ phenomenal Moonlight might be the most important coming-of-age film in years because it shows an intersectionality of identities in our protagonist Chiron. Chiron embodies what it means to come from a single-parent household, a low socioeconomic status, to be black, and to be queer. Many can identify with his cacophony of identities, and its clear to see how they intersect in his day-to-day life.
Perhaps that’s important for us now; if we can find common ground to connect on and uncommon ground to learn from we teach and learn from one another. Film and television show us the world through others’ eyes and if we had the stories to match, we could understand an intersectionality of diverse identities and perspectives.
And the tides are already starting to shift. On My Block is an excellent show that displays the intersectionality of Afro-Latinx identities in an inner-city context. Its power comes from its ability to show us how its core cast unite on common grounds despite their differences in culture and identity. And it doesn’t do sp in a way that’s cheesy either; their identities are a crucial part of their storylines and endeavours.
We’re seeing film and TV start to change. Our favorite shows aren’t just led by the majority anymore, and tokenized characters are becoming less and less of an overall concern in the media (on certain networks). We need diversity not just in appearance but also in ideas.
Mateo Flores, Staff Writer, is a sophomore Writing for Film, TV, and Emerging Media major who thinks Boyhood sucks.