The new Netflix movie Sierra Burgess Is a Loser has been criticized over a controversial scene that features the main character pretending to be deaf.
The movie stars Shannon Purser (who played Barb Holland in Stranger Things) as Sierra Burgess. She pretends to be a popular cheerleader named Veronica (Kristine Froseth) in an attempt to win over her crush Jamey, played by To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before star Noah Centineo.
Jamey asks Veronica for her number at a restaurant, and Veronica gives him Sierra’s phone number as a joke. Jamey then texts Sierra thinking it’s Veronica, and after Sierra receives a selfie of Jamey, she decides to pretend she is Veronica and begins to “catfish” him.
As their relationship grows from text messages to phone conversations, Sierra begins to fall in love with Jamey.
One day, while doing community service at a park with her friend Dan (RJ Cyler), who disapproves of Sierra’s catfishing, Sierra spots Jamey with his little brother, Ty (Cochise Zornoza).
Dan wants Sierra to come clean with her lie and drags Sierra over to Jamey. Instead of telling Jamey the truth, Sierra knows that Jamey would recognize her voice so she pretends to be deaf to avoid speaking.
The ploy backfires when Jamey’s brother Ty is actually deaf and makes an attempt at speaking with her in sign language.
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Model Nyle DiMarco, who is deaf and a vocal disability advocate, took to Twitter to criticize the film.
“So one of my close friends’ deaf brother is in Sierra Burgess. When I learned, I was elated. Finally, more deaf actors/representation & ASL inclusion in films…. Only to find out the deaf character was written and used for a terrible joke. PS- pretending to be deaf is NOT ok,” he wrote.
“There were homophobic and transphobic jokes as well,” DiMarco tweeted.
“It is extremely easy to make jokes about marginalized/disfranchised groups,” DiMarco wrote in a follow-up tweet. “… but that makes you a lazy writer.”
“And honestly you shouldn’t make these jokes AT ALL because our lives are on the line,” he wrote.
Many other people took to Twitter to discuss their disappointment in the movie.
Purser addressed some of the controversy surrounding her character, Sierra, and the lengths she goes to pretend to be someone else in order to catfish the boy she likes.
“Even though what she does is wrong — very wrong — I think it’s something she sort of gets thrust into, and that doesn’t mean that she is absolved of her actions or that she doesn’t have her own agency to make the right decisions,” Shannon told Elle.
“She’s so heavily influenced by a society that has told her she’s not good enough. That she could not ever have this guy. That this guy could never be interested in her. At the end, he even says, ‘I probably wouldn’t have noticed you if we hadn’t met in these different circumstances.'”
She also added, “So would I personally forgive someone who did that to me? I don’t know. But it is a story, and what I want people to take from it is that there can be redemption, and that your circumstances and the limitations placed on you by society don’t have to define you.”