If There Were a Netflix Coming of Age Movie About West Orange, I’d Watch It 

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Tyra Hughes, Co Editor in Chief

Every time I open Netflix to watch a new show, I’m always met with the same uninventive coming of age portrayal of white teenagers who wear baggy thrifted clothes, despise every kid at their school (with the exception of their best friend) and hate the town that they live in. The first time I saw the trailer for I’m Not Okay With This, I couldn’t believe that the writers had actually checked off all boxes for the basic, stereotypical Netflix coming of age series when the main character (who to no surprise is a white teenage girl who dresses in baggy thrifted clothes) says this:

“My name is Sydney, I’m a boring 17 year old white girl. I’m not special. I keep losing my temper. My best friend is dating Golden Boy Bradley Lewis.”

I couldn’t help but notice that I had watched this storyline before, in many other Netflix series attempts to create quirky, relatable (and oftentimes white) characters. Not sure what’s so relatable about a self described boring white girl whose only friend is a token character for “diversity” by being a light skin black girl with curly hair, but I’ll give this show an A for effort in regurgitating the same 80s inspired midwest town aesthetic that Half of It and every other Netflix coming of age film or series is set in. 

With all of these unoriginal and unrealistic depictions of diversity in Netflix fictional towns, it made me think what it would be like if there were a Netflix film about the town I live in. 

Honestly, if there were a film about West Orange, contrary to I’m Not Okay With This, I’d actually watch it. I’d make myself the main character, though Netflix might not be able to handle a character that’s black, bisexual and lives in New Jersey, considering how their characters are typically white and never live in a suburban New Jersey town. 

Much like Sydney from I’m Not Okay With This , I’m also 17 years old, but for the record I’m not white, I’m not boring and I actually really love the town that I live in.  

Our call to fame here in West Orange is often Kyrie Irving, but that doesn’t go without mentioning that we’ve got talented football players, filmmakers, music producers, journalists, thespians and entrepreneurs that represent our diversity. Granted, we wouldn’t have to hire 10 different versions of lightskin black actors to show our attempt at diversity in the way that most Netflix shows do, because West Orange is naturally diverse, though outsiders don’t like to believe it. 

If West Orange had a Netflix film, it would have to denounce all misconceptions regarding the assumed lack of diversity here. It’s worth mentioning that, whenever I tell someone that I’m from West Orange, I’m always met with the assumption that because of West Orange’s proximity to Livingston, South Orange and Montclair, I’m constantly surrounded by white people and have lost sense of what it means to be black. 

When I decided to go see a therapist last year, I was completely baffled by the fact that he couldn’t help but assume that the source of anxiety and low self esteem was the fact that I lived in West Orange, when in all actuality it was the battle within myself that led me to want outside help. 

A few weeks before I visited this therapist I would come home everyday from track practice and lay on my bed in the dark, with no motivation to move or talk to anyone. One night I realized how high school wasn’t living up to my expectations, I simply preferred being alone. I hadn’t quite found my niche yet, and on top of that I was trying to wrap my head around who I was as a person. So yeah, a therapist seemed like a good idea.

I expressed to the therapist how I felt unhappy with myself, life felt like a constant routine of waking up, going to school, feeling lonely, going to practice, coming home, and dragging myself out of bed to do it all over again the next day. As he went on telling me how I needed to be around more black people, and how I’m “not like one of those other girls” who wear short skirts and have blonde hair and do drugs, I realized that 1) he was not listening to what I was saying and 2) he had no intention to let me defend the town I live in. 

I understand why it was so easy for this therapist to make such rash assumptions about West Orange, considering how close we are to towns that are mostly white, but the unique geography of West Orange does not mean we’re not diverse.

The question of diversity is one that unfortunately, unites both Netflix and outsiders of West Orange. Both undeniably fail to see what true diversity is. Netflix’s definition of diversity is outdated and inaccurate often with people who have the lightest of complexions at the forefront of their “diversity” facade, while West Orange outsiders measure my town’s diversity by it’s proximity to wealthy or less wealthy places. 

Considering these faults, if anyone were to ever make a Netflix film about West Orange, they probably wouldn’t be able to depict how diverse we are without portraying it as too white according to the perspective of black Americans in neighboring towns like Orange or East Orange, or too black according to people from richer towns like Montclair, or Millburn or Verona. 

Netflix films and their rash attempts at diversity will only grab my interest when they come up with a storyline about a town like West Orange, one that is not only diverse, but unique in its breeding of talented kids. A town where the student council officers consist of all young female leaders of color (myself included). Where a highschool junior developed his own African American Heritage Club and sponsored a trip to the National Museum of African American History just 4 months ago. That’s what true diversity is, and Netflix ought to take notes.  

Here in West Orange, we have the big houses on hills with the NYC skyline views, and gated communities who give out entire chocolate bars on Halloween, but we also have smaller houses closer to the Valley or Washington Elementary School side of town with corner stores that sell rightfully priced 1 dollar Honey Buns. It’s simply the balance of Essex County suburbs, we have plenty of racial and socioeconomic diversity to throw around, contrary to the misconceptions of many. 

So yes, if there were a Netflix coming of age movie or series about what it’s like to grow up in West Orange as a black girl who loves her town, of course I’d watch it, at least it would have some originality over I Am Not Okay With This.