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These Black coming-of-age movies capture the complexity of adolescence and growing up.

Photo credit: Brett Sayles for Pexels

In American culture, movies like The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Ferris Buehler’s Day Off are held up as classics. But what about all the great Black coming-of-age movies? 

Just like with books and television shows, Black kids need to see themselves represented in dynamic ways on the big screen. (Or streamed on a flat screen TV.) 

Black coming-of-age movies provide mirrors that allow Black folks to see people who look like us going through the journey that is growing up. Which movies look at the transition into young adulthood from a Black lens? We compiled an exhaustive, but by-no-means-definitive list for your consideration. 

Each film listed here is a classic in its own rite, and the list spans almost 50 years of cinema. That said, we were struck by a truth that can’t be ignored. While some of these films are light-hearted and uplifting, many Black coming-of-age movies tend to look at the dark realities of life on the margins. As such, some parents may not find these films to be suitable for their children.

Which one of your favorite Black coming-of-age movies make the list? Which ones did we miss? Reach out to us on Instagram or Facebook to let us know.

Note: We’ve included each film’s rating. If you’d like to know about their appropriateness for tween and teen viewers, we encourage you to read more about them on Common Sense Media as several include adult themes.

Written with support from Satya Nelms

Above the Rim (1994)

Kyle, a gifted basketball player played by Duane Martin, is waiting to hear if he’ll receive a scholarship to play ball at Georgetown University. In the meantime, Kyle’s caught in a neighborhood rivalry playing out in a basketball tournament. Whose team will he play for: The one led by drug dealer Birdie (Tupac Shakur), or the one led by Shep (Leon Robinson), Birdie’s and a former basketball star? (R)

Akeelah and the Bee (2006)

Eleven-year-old Akeelah Anderson (a young Keke Palmer) discovers she has a talent for spelling. Setting her sights on the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Akeelah trains with her tutor Dr. Larabee (Laurence Fishburne) and defies people’s expectations of young Black girls. (PG, Common Sense Media)


ATL (2006)

ATL follows the coming-of-age stories of a group of friends trying to figure out what to do after graduation. As they explore their friendships, they confront what growing up and entering young adulthood means for each of them. (PG-13, Common Sense Media)


Atlantics (2019)

In this gripping romantic drama, Senegalese teens Souleiman and Ada try to find comfort in each other in spite of some harsh realities. When forces larger than them keep them apart, we see how far Souleiman will go to reunite with Ada. (TV-14, Common Sense Media)

Boyz N The Hood (1991)

As Tre, Chris, and half-brothers “Doughboy” and Ricky go from boys to young men in South Central L.A., this classic Black coming-of-age movie looks at how choices and chance shape their lives. (R, Common Sense Media)

Class Act (1992)

This comedy follows two boys whose school records get switched, giving them completely different reputations in school. Genius Duncan (Christopher “Kid” Reid) is placed into a group of classes filled with delinquents, while the ex-convict “Blade” (Christopher “Play” Martin) gets placed in advanced classes. The mix-up gives the young men access to lives they’d never imagine for themselves. (PG-13)

Cooley High (1975)

It’s so haaaard… To say goodbye… To yesterday. Just like the song, this 1975 Black coming-of-age movie is timeless. Cooley High follows Preach and Cochise’s tumultuous senior year in Chicago. (PG)

Concrete Cowboy (2021)

Fifteen-year-old Cole (Stranger Things’ Caleb McLaughlin) is getting into trouble in school in Detroit where he lives with his mother. So his mom sends him to Philadelphia to stay with his father, who is an urban cowboy. One of the more recent Black coming-of-age movies on this list, Concrete Cowboy was inspired by the real urban cowboys of Philadelphia. (R, Common Sense Media)

Cornbread, Earl and Me (1975)

Earl and Willford (played by a young Laurence Fishburne) look up to their older friend and local basketball star Nathaniel “Cornbread” Hamilton. A case of mistaken identity and wrong place, wrong time, tears the boys apart. (PG)

Crooklyn (1994)

This Spike Lee Joint is a Black coming-of-age movie that the whole family can enjoy. Troy Carmichael (Zelda Harris) navigates growing up as the only daughter of her parents’ five children in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn in the summer of 1973. (PG-13, Common Sense Media)

Cuties (2020)

A controversial French coming-of-age story, Cuties explores the hypersexualization of pre-adolescent girls. Amy, 11 years old raised in traditional Muslim values, discovers internet culture through her rebellious neighbor. She joins a dance crew and does everything that she could to gain online recognition—but at what cost? (TV-MA, Common Sense Media)

Note: For Harriet has a thoughtful, nuanced overview of the movie.

Dope (2015)

Dope follows Malcolm Adekanbi (Shameik Moore), and his two best friends on a wild adventure in Inglewood, California. The self-professed geeks find themselves caught up in a drug deal while trying to get Malcolm to an interview for admittance into Harvard University. (R, Common Sense Media)


Eve’s Bayou (1997)

In this drama, 10-year-old Eve (played by a young Jurnee Smollett) accidentally sees her father’s infidelity at a party. It leads to a chaotic and tense summer as the family slowly starts to doubt each other: Eve towards her father (Samuel L. Jackson), her older sister Cisely (Meagan Good) towards Eve, and their mother (Lynn Whitfield) towards her husband. (R, Common Sense Media)

Everything, Everything (2017)

Based on the book of the same name, this movie focuses on the life of 18-year-old Maddy Whittier (Amandla Stenberg) who has a rare immune disorder that prevents her from leaving the home she shares with her mom. For years Maddy resigns herself to interacting with the world from afar. But that all changes when an intriguing boy moves in next door. (PG-13, Common Sense Media)

Fast Color (2018)

Grandmother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint), mother Ruth (Gugu Mbatha Raw), and daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney), all have supernatural powers. Now they’re being hunted down by scientists who want to study and control them. (PG-13, Common Sense Media)
Hulu | Prime

The Fits (2015)

Eleven-year-old Toni (Royalty Hightower) notices a dance team at the gym where she boxes with her big brother. Toni befriends the girls and eventually begins practicing with them. Strangely, one by one members start having seizing spells. These “fits” overtake the whole team, leaving outsiders to wonder what’s really going on. (PG, Common Sense Media)
Hulu | Prime

George Washington (2000)

On one hand, George Washington is about a group of children trying to hide the accidental death of one of their own. But it’s also a story about the last few months between being a child and becoming a teenager, which we don’t see enough of in Black coming-of-age movies. (Unrated)

A Girl Like Grace (2016)

Grace (Ryan Destiny) is trying to cope with her best friend Andrea’s suicide. Alienated from her friends and bullied by a group of mean girls, Grace gets closer to Andrea’s older sister, Share, who initiates her into the edgy world of men and drugs. (R, Common Sense Media)

Girlhood (2021)

Black coming-of-age movie Girlhood tells the story of Marieme, a teenager living in the poor suburbs of Paris. Marieme meets and befriends a group of girls. Amidst the stealing, fighting, and intimidation that the group deals in, she discovers the support and love she was missing from her family. (R, Common Sense Media)

Goldie (2019)

Meet Goldie (Slick Woods), a teenager with big dreams living in a family shelter. Goldie wants to become a famous dancer. But can she do it while she’s also doing her best to keep her two sisters together? (R, Common Sense Media)

The Great Debaters (2007)

This semi-biographical Black coming-of-age movie mirrors the Wiley College debate team of the 1930s. A team of four young people, led by their coach Melvin B. Tolson (Denzel Washington), takes the country by storm. Watch as they go head-to-head with Harvard University’s debate team, all while dealing with the realities of growing up in post-Reconstruction America. (PG-13, Common Sense Media)

The Hate U Give (2018)

Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) is a teenage girl who lives in a predominantly Black neighborhood, but attends a predominantly white private school. When her best friend is shot by a police officer, the aftermath challenges the relationships in Starr’s life and everything she thought she knew. (PG -13, Common Sense Media)


Higher Learning (1995)

Another standout from the ’90s era of Black coming-of-age movies. Set at a fictional college, Higher Learning tells the intertwining stories of three college freshmen from three different backgrounds. Class, race, and gender all collide in this powerful and gripping film. (R)


Hoop Dreams (1994)

The documentary Hoop Dreams follows William Gates and Arthur Agee, two young Black boys who get drafted into a primarily all-White high school known for its excellent basketball program. The film reveals the struggles and the success that they go through in this competitive sport. (PG-13, Common Sense Media)


House Party (1990)

Classic Black coming-of-age movies stand the test of time. In House Party Kid sneaks out after being grounded to go to his friend’s Play’s house for the ultimate party. Shenanigans, bullies, dancing, and crushes ensue! (R, Common Sense Media)
Prime | Vudu

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete (2013)

Mister is a 13-year-old child fending for himself and 9-year-old Pete after the police take their mothers away. (Both women are sex workers.) With no food or money, the boys spend their summer dodging bullies, Child Services, and other hostile neighbors while waiting for a better future in the form of a callback from a casting agent. (R, Common Sense Media)

The Inkwell (1994)

Set in the summer of 1976, The Inkwell centers on Drew Tate (Larenz Tate), a 16-year-old from upstate New York visiting rich relatives in Martha’s Vineyard. The story follows Drew as he enters this unfamiliar world and discovers himself. (R)

Jinn (2018)

Summer is a teenager in her last year in high school when her mother suddenly decides to convert to Islam. As a girl who was raised in a previously secular home, Summer is torn between the lifestyle she has always known and her burgeoning interest in the faith. (R, Common Sense Media)


Juice (1992)

Q (Omar Epps) spends his days skipping school; hanging out with friends Bishop (Tupac Shakur), Raheem, and Steel; and being harassed by gangs and the police. In an attempt to get street cred or “juice,” Bishop decides the group needs to rob a convenience store. What happens next tests their bonds and sense of morality. (R, Common Sense Media)

Just Another Girl on the IRT (1992)

In this indie movie, Chantel, 17, doesn’t want to be another statistic: She plans to get into college and become a doctor. Can she still make her dreams happen after getting pregnant while struggling to take care of her two younger siblings, go to school, and work a part-time job? (R)

The Karate Kid (2010)

Do you remember the original Karate Kid? Well the 2010 version stars a young Jaden Smith as an expat kid in China. (Instead of karate, the martial art that helps him find himself is kung fu.) (PG, Common Sense Media)
Prime | Netflix

The Land (2016)

In The Land, a group of boys hope to leave behind their poverty-stricken lives in Cleveland and become pro skateboarders. The plan: stealing and selling cars to chop shops. What could go wrong? (R)

Lean on Me (1989)

When it comes to Black coming-of-age movies, Lean on Me is a classic. In it, a once-successful high school has deteriorated because of rampant drug use and violence. New principal Joe “Crazy Joe” Clark is charged with turning its rankings around. While his drastic measures initially have him clashing with everyone, these changes ultimately change the entire school for the better. (PG-13, Common Sense Media)

Love Don’t Cost a Thing (2003)

A reboot of the ‘80s flick Can’t Buy Me Love, Love Don’t Cost a Thing follows the same basic premise. Geek Alvin (Nick Cannon) is in love with popular girl Paris (Christina Millan). In exchange for his help repairing her mom’s car, Paris pretends to be his girlfriend for two weeks. But will his new ego let him see that she’s falling for him? (TV-MA, Common Sense Media)

Prime | Vudu

Mississippi Damned (2009)

An autobiographical film, Mississippi Damned takes an unflinching look at a toxic family’s destruction and attempts at redemption. Following three cousins in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, Mississippi Damned depicts the effects homophobia, incest, rape, violence, alcoholism, unemployment, abuse, and addiction have on their family. (TV-MA)

Miss Juneteenth (2020)

Single mother and former beauty queen Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie) is doing everything she can to provide for her teenage daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze). When Turquoise enters Kai into the Miss Juneteenth pageant, the journey it takes them on brings mother and daughter closer together. (Unrated, Common Sense Media)

Moonlight (2016)

A standard bearer of queer and Black coming-of-age movies, Moonlight follows Chiron through three stages of his life. As “Little” (Alex Hibbert) we see Chiron in his childhood, and the impact of being raised by a mother addicted to drugs. Later we meet teenaged Chiron (Ashton Sanders) as he struggles with being bullied at school while navigating his identity and sexuality. Finally, we meet adult Chiron, or “Black” (Trevante Rhodes), who longs to find connection and intimacy. (R, Common Sense Media)
Hulu | Prime 

Night Comes On (2018)

Angel gets out of juvenile detention on the cusp of her 18th birthday. She has a string of offenses and trauma behind her, and an uncertain future ahead of her. That future is made even more uncertain by a burning desire to kill her father for murdering her mother. Complicating her desire for revenge is her desire to be there for her 10-year-old sister, who is stuck in foster care. (R, Common Sense Media)
Prime | Vudu

Love & Basketball (2000)

When Quincy and Monica meet as kids, they quickly bond over their love of basketball. But as they grow up (played by Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan as adults), their passion for the sport takes them on different paths to self-discovery and romance. (PG-13)
Prime | Vudu

LUV (2013)

Woody dreams of seeing his mother again. But she’s in North Carolina in rehab, while he stays with his grandma in Baltimore. The 11-year-old soon gets a quick lesson in what it means to be a man when Vincent (Common)—his uncle who has been recently released from jail—takes Woody under his wing. Vincent’s definition includes violence and drug dealing. But will Woody’s? (R, Common Sense Media)

Menace II Society (2000)

A random act of violence set best friends Caine (Tyrin Turner) and O-Dog (Larenz Tate) on a path to even more violence and vice. This is a story that shows that the saying “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” is true. (R, Common Sense Media)


Monster (2018)

This legal drama is based on the book of the same name written by Walter Dean Myers. In it, 17-year-old Steve Harmon is charged for a murder that happened during a robbery. Monster follows the trial as Steve struggles to not lose his promising future due to the jury’s prejudice. (R, Common Sense Media)


Our Song (2011)

A young Kerry Washington plays one of three 15-year-old best friends wondering what to do next with their lives. The girls think about the usual teenage concerns alongside more complicated ones (e.g. surviving their dangerous neighborhood and having an abortion) while practicing for the Labor Day parade as part of their local marching band, the Jackie Robinson Steppers. (R, Common Sense Media)

Pariah (2011)

In Pariah, 17-year-old Alike is trying to embrace her identity as a lesbian. Her sense of self is complicated by her mother’s disapproval and her father who sees her presentation as a phase. (R, Common Sense Media)

Netflix | Prime

Precious (2009)

Based on the novel Push by Sapphire, Precious is one of the most heart-wrenching Black coming-of-age movies on this list. Sixteen-year-old Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) has been verbally and physically abused by her mother (Mo’Nique), and sexually abused by her father—who has also fathered her two children. Thankfully her life begins to turn around for the better as Precious gets support from people who actually care about her and her children. (R, Common Sense Media)

Netflix | Prime

Premature (2019)

First love comes with all the feelings, and 17-year-old poet Ayanna is no exception. But when she and “grown” music producer Isaiah fall in love the summer before her freshman year of college, the intoxicating ups and painful downs of their relationship take the both of them by surprise. (R, Common Sense Media)
Vudu | Apple TV

Rafiki (2019)

Rafiki, which means “friend” in Swahilli, tells the story of two young women who are love in a country where being queer is illegal. And if things weren’t complicated enough already, their families are also political rivals. (TV – MA, Common Sense Media)
Vudu | Apple TV

Remember the Titans (2000)

Set in Virginia in 1971, Remember the Titans tells the story of a newly integrated high-school football team learning to accept each other and play as a team. Led by their new Black coach (played by Denzel Washington) who was hired to replace a long-time white coach, the Titans have to learn how to navigate their own biases and those of the entire town. (PG-13, Common Sense Media)


Roll Bounce (2015)

Xavier Curtis “X” Smith loves skating with his friends. But when their favorite skating rink gets shut down, the crew have to go to a ritzy skating rink where they aren’t welcomed. Instead of leaving, they compete to have the right to use the rink against the rink’s long-standing champions. (PG-13, Common Sense Media)


Roxanne Roxanne (2017)

This musical drama is about the life of rapper Roxanne Shante, and her struggles living in her neighborhood and with her family as she slowly rises to stardom. (R, Common Sense Media)


See You Yesterday (2019)

This is one of the few sci-fi Black coming-of-age movies we came across. Best friends C.J. Walker (Eden Duncan-Smith) and Sebastian Thomas (Danté Crichlow) are science prodigies who have created a time machine. The two go back and forth through time, trying to save C.J.’s brother from being shot by a police officer. (TV-MA, Common Sense Media)

Selah and the Spades (2019)

If your kids like Gossip Girl, then you may want to give Selah and the Spades a try. A senior at an elite boarding school, Selah Summers (Lovie Simone) runs a group that provides students with all manner of vices. With rival groups competing for the top spot, Selah tries to find someone to lead her crew in her stead when she graduates. But will her machinations cause more harm than good? (R, Common Sense Media)

Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993)

Sister Act 2 has showgirl Deloris (Whoopi Goldberg) step back into her Sister Mary Clarence persona. This musical comedy shows her return to the sisterhood to be a music teacher at the school she went to when she was a child. If anyone can lead a group of misunderstood Catholic students (including a young Lauryn Hill) to keep the school from closing down, it’s Sister Mary Clarence. (PG, Common Sense Media)


Solace (2018)

Sole, an artistic teenager, and activist, loses everything when her father dies. Sent off to live with her estranged and strict grandmother in another state, Sole is far away from all the people and things that gave her life meaning. She finds herself coping with her various losses through self-harm, disordered eating, and hanging out with her neighbors, a couple of hard-partying misfits. (R)
Prime | Vudu

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Afro-Latino teen Miles Morales becomes the next Spider-Man after the death of Peter Parker. Upon losing his mentor before he was able to control his powers, Miles’ gets help from the other versions of Spider-Man who came from different universes. (PG, Common Sense Media)

The Sun Is Also a Star (2019)

Life seems to be taking Natasha Kingsley (Yara Shahidi) and Daniel Bae (Charles Melton) in two very different directions at the outset of this Black coming-of-age movie. Natasha is fighting to keep her family from being deported and Daniel is on his way to an interview for college. But fate intervenes and their stories intertwine in this romantic drama set in New York City. (PG-13, Common Sense Media)

The Wood (1999)

The Wood opens on the morning of a wedding. Mike (Omar Epps) and Slim (Richard T. Jones) are on the hunt for their best friend and missing groom Roland (Taye Diggs). During their search, they flashback to a summer from their teenage years growing up in Inglewood. (R)

A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

Based on the book by Madeleine L’Engle, this sci-fi movie is about Meg (Storm Reid) and her siblings as they try to deal with their life after the disappearance of their astrophysicist father. Their adventures begin when a being claims that their father traveled using a method he was studying and is now in need of rescuing from the evil forces holding him captive. (PG, Common Sense Media)


Yelling to the Sky (2012)

Sweetness O’Hara (Zoë Kravitz) is a good-girl-gone-bad thanks to her unstable family life and dangerous neighborhood. Dealing drugs seems to give her the power she doesn’t have at home (where she witnesses her father’s domestic violence against her mother) or at school (where she’s bullied by a gang of mean girls)… but for how long? (Unrated)
Prime | Vudu

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