Being 17 can feel like an emotional jumble, as conflicting identities emerge. For youth of color, the added intricacies of race and class can further complicate expressions of gender and sexuality.
Filmmaker André Téchiné explores these themes in the 2017 opener for Filmworks, “Being 17,” screening at the Tower Theatre on Jan. 13. Set in the wild and beautiful Pyrenees Mountains in southern France, the film tells the story of teens Tomas and Damien, who have a long-running feud at school. Tomas is multiracial and Damien is White. Their antagonism gets complicated when Tomas’ mother becomes hospitalized and Damien’s mom invites Tomas to live with them for a while. A hesitant relationship between the teens develops, as a new tenderness develops between them.
Here’s three more excellent coming-of-age films featuring young people of color who question their sexual identities.
“Saving Face” (2004)
Inspired by the real-life experiences of writer/director Alice Wu, the film is most notable for being the first big-screen depiction of an openly lesbian Asian American couple. Even though it’s a little cheesy, the movie also plays as an endearing family story, as both daughter (a 28-year-old lesbian-questioning surgeon who has fallen in love with a ballerina) and her mother (a 48-year-old widow who has turned up pregnant) both struggle with being ostracized from their respective communities.
The gorgeously shot sophomore feature from filmmaker Dee Rees — perhaps most well known for directing the excellent 2015 biopic “Bessie” for HBO, starring Queen Latifah as blues singer Bessie Smith — was a critical favorite at the Sundance and Toronto film festivals, and it has enjoyed an extended life on streaming services and among academics as an engaging cinematic depiction of queer and questioning youth. The terrific Adepero Oduye stars in a breakthrough performance as Alike, a Brooklyn teen at odds with her religious family over her emerging sexual identity, as she develops feelings for her friend Bina.
One of 2016’s standouts, filmmaker Barry Jenkins delivers an engrossing triptych, chronicling the story of a Black man — alternately: Little, as a youth; Chiron, as a teen; and Black, as a young adult — from childhood through adulthood. The film’s great care and honesty in telling Black’s questioning coming of age has so far earned the film best-picture honors from the Golden Globes, the National Society of Film Critics, the Gotham Awards, and many more. And it’s a front-runner for a best-picture Oscar nomination, which will hopefully mean that the movie will soon return to Fresno multiplexes, after a brief two-week run this past fall, for an additional run before the current awards season is out.
Jefferson Beavers serves as development director for Fresno Filmworks.