Every few years, an adolescent actor delivers a definitive performance that illuminates the beauty and struggle of Black boyhood. Although these stories arrive at a pace that passes much too slowly to qualify as progress, the actors themselves always appear to be right on time. In 2020, as Hollywood begins to recover from its temporary halt, 16-year-old Jahi Di’Allo Winston appears to be the young man of the moment.

In Charm City Kings, slated to premiere October 8 exclusively on HBO Max, Winston delivers an emotional performance as Mouse. Set in Baltimore, a notoriously neglected city for Black residents, the film is about freedom, and how simple desires can often be complicated by disenfranchisement. All Mouse wants is a dirt bike and the respect of the city’s OG street riders, one of which is played by noted bike enthusiast Meek Mill. But with no money and police constantly on the hunt, he has to face the harsh realities of dreams deferred. 

In some ways, the film is a work of serendipity. Originally scheduled to be released in theaters by Sony Pictures Classics in April, the Sundance Jury Prize-winning drama was shelved due to the COVID-19 pandemic (before being acquired by HBO Max). Since then, the country has experienced a racial reckoning, with protests and various forms of resistance becoming the norm. Much like Black coming-of-age films backed by major studios, these sorts of movements tend to occur only once every handful of years. During a recent interview on Complex’s Watch Less podcast, Winston describes this sort of symmetry as “divine timing.”