Previous generations had their teen movie classics: The Breakfast Club, Clueless, Mean Girls. Recently, Generation Z has received a wave of fresh, angsty, moving films and TV shows about and aimed for teens. But our new classics have a twist.
This decade’s trend is “staying woke,” or being socially aware of important issues. So the classic teen movie formula is being revamped to have a woke message. This year, teens have been regaled by Love, Simon and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, which seem like normal teen movies on the surface. But these films bring genuine LGBT and POC representation, elements that the classics left out. In doing so, they tap into new audiences and fanbases who are seeing themselves the way they want to in teen movies and rom coms for the first time. How do real-life adolescents feel about this new wave of young adult movies? Here’s a conversation among four teen reporters from YR Media: Emiliano Villa, Olivia Monforte, Sarah Ng, and Valeria Araujo.
EV: One movie I honestly loved was Love, Simon. In theaters, I was just sitting giddy in my seat because I finally had a movie about gay kids. I loved the classic feel-good rom-com ending and everything. It’s everything that’s in a normal teen movie, but it’s with a gay couple. I’ve never seen that before in a movie. And while Simon was white, he had friends who weren’t, whereas a lot of the classic movies were just 100 percent white.
SN: I love the movie Spider-Man: Homecoming [for the same reason]. I was watching some interviews where the director was specifically saying he wanted the characters to be realistic high schoolers. So like, they have Zendaya, who is half black, half white, as the love interest. And even just seeing extras in the movie that aren’t white is pretty cool. Also, the school in the movie is for really intelligent kids, and you don’t just see rich white kids. There are a lot of people of color in that movie, and that’s awesome.
OM: It shows the world the way it looks.
EV: Even if we’re not the main characters, we still exist.
OM: Apparently producers for To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before wanted to whitewash the movie and have the main character be white, but it was really important to the creator, Jenny Han, that Lara Jean be half Asian. What do you think would have been different if she was white, and do you think that it would have gotten the same amount of attention?
SN: As someone who is Asian, I thought it was cool to see like a main character that looked like me and that was [the romantic lead] in the movie. A lot of the time, Asian characters are shown as just the smart one in the group, and you never see like Asian people being prided on their beauty and stuff, and that was like the main focus of this movie. I know a lot of my Asian friends thought “This girl looks like me, this girl could be me.
OM: Why do you think people love these new movies so much, and what connects them all?
VA: More awareness of people of color and the LGBT+ community.
OM: I also think some of the success has to do with the fact that you’re reaching out to an audience that hasn’t seen themselves in these roles maybe ever. It’s exciting and people love it.
On Classic Teen Movies:
OM: Okay, so what were things in teen movies that were not woke and we hated?
EV: I feel like the movies of the past always had a mean girl in them, and she was mean and there was nothing you could do about it. Everyone wanted to be her. But if there’s a mean girl in a movie today, you’re not supposed to like her
SN: The mean girls are always there, and they’re always the prettiest ones but they’re always white too, like even in To All The Boys I’ve Loved. She was a pretty, white girl.
OM: The mean girl [in classic teen movies] was the girl you wanted to be. But now it’s like, “You suck, you’re basic, you’re wearing Uggs.”
VA: [Growing up,] I loved High School Musical. Ever since I was little, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of high school and falling in love as a teenager. Now that I’m a teen, I feel like these new movies are more realistic than the ones we grew up with. Like in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Lara Jean has embarrassing moments, and she has to make sacrifices to get the guys she wants.
OM: It is interesting for me because I’m straight and white, so the classic teen movies do represent me, but I still prefer the ones coming out now. They’re just more real and relatable, even though the characters don’t necessarily look like me. The social media aspect in these movies–and the frustrations that come with it–is so real to me. Relationships now happen over social media a lot of the time. Like in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Lara Jean has a video of her kissing her boyfriend leaked and it just complicates her relationship.
SN: What I think is really cool is that these movies that are coming out now are going to be there for the next generation. Like, I watched Grease growing up and the whole message is that the girl has to change to get the boy. So I’m really happy to see these movies that are not focused on physical appearance directly, because people are gonna watch these movies in a couple years and see what’s really important in a relationship.
OM: Yeah, that love is on the inside and you love a person for who they are, not what they look like.
On Netflix Originals:
OM: In the 80s, there was the Brat Pack – young actors who were in every big teen movie. Now, there are actors who are appearing in all the new teen media too. Do you think a part of the teen movie formula is to have these same actors, and why?
EV: Yeah, I still see that today. Like Noah Centineo [The Fosters, To All The Boys, Sierra Burgess] is really everywhere.
SN: And Shannon Purser [Stranger Things, Riverdale], the girl who plays Sierra Burgess.
EV: Katherine Langford [13RW, Love, Simon] from 13 Reasons Why too.
VA: I feel like it’s since their characters are popular and their faces are easily recognizable. I feel like everyone thinks Noah’s really attractive so they make him a love interest so people can watch the movie and think about being with him.
EV: Do you think that’s what makes people want to watch, or do you think that they watch for the meaning, like the meaning behind the movie?
OM: I’m not going to lie. I watched To All Of The Boys I’ve Loved because I saw him on Twitter and thought he was cute.
VA: I feel like the movies and shows that are the most popular are the ones that have love interests, especially cute guys.
OM: Netflix is definitely the media of young people.
SN: Yeah, I don’t really have friends go up to me talk about shows that are airing on the TV. They only say, “Have you watched this on Netflix?” It really took over.
VA: I think it’s because it’s so portable. We could be at school and finish an episode while going to class, or in the car.
OM: I think Netflix is being smart. I think they know that their biggest audience is teenagers.
SN: Plus, they know we can’t deal with ads.