Throughout the years, major movie studios have been unchallenged in their portrayals of individuality. This can be seen especially in ‘coming of age’ films. It has always been the same story, the narrative such as the ‘boy meets girl’ has dominated this genre for years.
Gone are the days where families used to gather in front of the telly to watch the regularly scheduled daytime transmissions. The rise of the Internet, ultimately paved the path for online streaming to be easily accessible to many at an affordable rate. Amongst them is Netflix, the biggest player in this new digital market with predominantly young and impressionable audiences. Recently it has become apparent that Netflix is boldly challenging the idealization of youth. There are various paths of adolescence that are often untold which Netflix has chosen to portray in their originals.
For the longest time, it was not popular to showcase physical attributes that hinder one's potential to have a full life. However, Netflix originals such as To the Bone and Fundamentals of Caring illuminates situations that a lot of people face while growing into adulthood. To the Bone, written and directed by Martin Noxon, tells the story of Ellen, a 20-year-old anorexic girl who spent years, of what most would call the golden age of teenage years, in various recovery programs in hopes of confronting addiction and the attempt to self-acceptance. What the film goes on to show is that time ticks differently for everyone. It’s okay for someone to experience life at their own pace as long as they’re aware of what is hindering them from experiencing a healthy life.
On the other, we have Craig from Fundamentals of Caring, who is faced with a predicament where he is forced to live with Muscular Dystrophy; a genetic condition that interferes with the production of proteins needed to form healthy muscles. For someone living with terminal illness as such, it’s not surprising that he chooses to avoid interaction with the outside world. However, throughout the film, with the help of the protagonist, his caretaker, he finds the value of life outside the bubble he had been living in. With this, we learn to not be afraid to take risks and not to worry about time passing by. Life tracks differently for everyone and it is up to us to see life how we choose to see it.
When we think about relationships in coming of age films, we think of Molly Ringwald in the boombox scene from 16 Candles or the fields of daffodils from Tim Burton’s, Big Fish. This narrative is not recent and has actually been used since the Shakespeare era to represent the ‘ultimate’ idea of a relationship. However, in Netflix originals Alex Strangelove and Elisa and Marcela, the relationships are represented as a point of revelation in someone's self-identity.
For instance, in Alex Strangelove, Alex struggles with his sexual identity after he met another boy, Elliot, which affected his long-time relationship with his girlfriend, Claire. As most of us know, attraction is a very tricky thing. For decades, we have been categorized under very few labels of sexual orientation. Only in recent years, this has been argued to be an inaccurate representation of the human psyche of attraction. Psychologists are arguing that it runs under a spectrum similar to emotions. History is subjective and has constantly been mended throughout time to represent the current common understanding.
In 2019 Netflix original Elisa and Marcela, the true story of the first-ever Spanish same-sex marriage in 1901 was released. The story tells of Elisa who had to adopt a male identity as Mario Sánchez to be able to get married to Marcela; the event that took over 100 years before same-sex couples were permitted to be legally engaged to each other. We might think that this situation is ridiculous, but it’s also not a new thing for someone to dress as the opposite sex to live out the idea of ‘romance’. This has already been done long before in Shakespeare’s stage plays when men used to dress as women since women were not permitted to perform in front of an audience. If anything, these two films have taught us that the idea of ‘self’ is basically just an idea. We are destined to go through many relationships and self-personification in the process of growing up, just like the nature of time we too are destined to evolve.
It is unfair to presume that the youth are sheltered from troubles and pain simply because they are young. Netflix has taken the leap to showcase actual struggles the youth face in its rawest form. There has been a significant lack of portrayal of the many walkways of youth in big productions coming of age films. This is why Netflix’s real take on adolescence serves as a breath of fresh air amidst the cliché narrative at this time.
It is important for our young to grow up with these portrayals so that they do not alienate themselves or feel alone in their struggles. The current times have definitely left a mark when it comes to their content. Reflections of individuality in the media have slowly but surely evolved to represent all walks of life. It goes without saying that the media plays an important role in shaping the Youth.
By: Muhammad Luqman