Coming-of-age movies are a staple in most teenagers’ lives. The recent resurgence of teen-led rom-coms and television series has seen shows covering darker, more real topics and having realistically diverse casts. However, one aspect of these dramas hasn’t changed: The actors portraying them are most definitely not teenagers.
The average age of an actor who is meant to be portraying a teenager on our screens is 21 to 22 years old. Now, with all the amazing things happening in the TV and film industry like the Time’s Up movement and having more diverse stories being told, this may seem like a petty thing to get hung up on. However, this aspect of Hollywood can play a big part in how people our age see themselves.
The main issue with casting older actors to play teenagers is their appearance. I don’t know a single high school-aged person who looks anything like the cast of “Riverdale.” Rightly so, considering the youngest member of the cast is actor KJ Apa, who plays Archie, clocking in at 21 years old. The oldest member of that cast to play a teen is Ashleigh Murray, at 30 years old.
Most teenagers I encountered in high school — and even in college — are still finishing up puberty and have acne as well as braces, retainers and other things that may appear embarrassing, but are really just common aspects of getting older. Not to mention, all the “teenagers” on these television shows and in these movies have flawless hair, makeup and impeccable taste in clothing.
Where are the characters still going through their “blue eyeshadow is absolutely a daytime look” phase, the girl who cut her own bangs unevenly, the guy who thinks his underwear being too visible is cool or even that one person we all know who replaced a shower with Axe body spray? You won’t find them on these shows. The girls have perfectly curled hair and not even a patch of unblended foundation, while the guys look like the after-results of being signed up for “Queer Eye.”
Another issue with high school and college-centric television shows and movies is the fact that they’re not always realistic. High school is all about prom and homecoming, while college is seen as a never-ending sea of red solo cups and parties. Both are far from true. There are a lot of people who have little to no experience with alcohol, drugs or even their sexuality when they come to college, and that’s perfectly normal. There are some who’ve tried all those things before coming to school, and that’s fine, too. The point I’m trying to make is that all of our experiences are different, and we should be seeing that on our screens. Where are the scenes where students are showing the freshmen in their building how to do laundry, stressing over whether their GPA is high enough to keep a scholarship or the moment that we find out sometimes it’s the smartest pre-med students who party the hardest and still show up to lecture?
And yes, a large part of older actors portraying teens has to do with labor laws. Being under 18 years old means one can only work certain hours, and many young actors are still required to maintain some kind of formal education. However, there are plenty of cases where these aspects were worked into production schedules rather than used against young performers. Both Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall were actually 16 years old during the filming of “Sixteen Candles.” While Saoirse Ronan wasn’t a teenager despite playing one in “Lady Bird,” I found the story (and the fact that it was a purposeful choice to leave Ronan’s acne visible) incredibly realistic. It’s not a perfect example, but this is the kind of story we should be seeing from Hollywood. Teenagers are incredibly complex and contradictory and certainly far from perfect. Maybe if we saw this a little more often, we wouldn’t feel so damn bad about it.
Elizabeth Short is a sophomore majoring in biology.