I Really Wanted To Like 'Sierra Burgess Is A Loser'
While "Sierra Burgess" aimed to be a progress teenage girl's diary of finding love, it instead turned into a problematic mess that hardly achieved anything it set out to do.
When I first saw the trailer for Netflix's "Sierra Burgess Is A Loser", I was excited. I was excited to see a female lead that didn't fit typical beauty standards (although Shannon Purser is still gorgeous), and the cast looked great. I was expecting a movie that was progressive and forward thinking, and something that would speak to higher truths about social media and modern high school life.
I won't lie, "Sierra Burgess" accomplishes some of that. I actually somewhat liked the reversal of the "mean girl" stereotype with Veronica. While she starts off as the vicious mean girl stereotype, she is given more depth throughout the movie, which I appreciated. Jamey (Noah Centineo) has a deaf brother, which at the beginning of the movie is handled casually and in my opinion, wonderfully, with Jamey often speaking in sign language with his brother and the character being treated just as any other. However, later in the movie, this becomes problematic.
The first sign of this movie wasn't the movie I signed up was the transphobic jokes within the first 20 minutes of the movie. Sierra is often mocked for her appearance by being called "trans" or referred to with male diminutives such as "dude."
While these offensive and inappropriate "jokes" do happen in high school classrooms, Sierra isn't a transgender character and insulting her by calling her such on screen is extremely transphobic.
While the "joke" isn't presented to be positive or anything other than bullying, the character is never reprimanded for her remarks. These lines were unnecessary and/or could've been handled in a much different way. There are also many homophobic moments and jokes as well with Sierra more than once questioning why everyone believes she's a lesbian to the point it became awkward and insulting. I'm not the only one who became uncomfortable from these lines as many other articles have been written on the subject.
For a movie that seems to be marketing itself as progressive and modern, it doesn't really do much for progressive issues. The two leads and majority of main characters are white (albeit the female lead does not fit typical beauty standards) and people of color are often demoted to being the "best friend" role, which we see both with Sierra's, Jamey's, and Veronica's friends.
The "black best friend" is a common trope within TV and movies, where the black character's role either completely revolves around a white character or serves as a device for the characters/ writer to seem inclusive. I feel like "Sierra Burgess" fits within this realm with all the characters of color being directly connected to a white character and their role only involved them. While I'm not the right person to criticize this as a white person, I think it is fair to say that the writer's certainly could've been more inclusive and less lazy when writing their characters of color.
As I mentioned earlier, Jamey's (the main male lead) brother, Ty, is deaf, which on its own is great! Deaf characters and disabled characters, in general, are often absent, excluded, or portrayed as charity cases. To see a deaf character be treated completely normally is awesome. The first scene where Ty appears is promising: it shows him hanging out with his brother and signing, being a completely normal child. However, the problem comes when Sierra pretends to be deaf, turning Ty's character into nearly a mockery and a cheap joke.
Deaf model, Nyle DiMarco, was one of the first to speak out and called out the lazy writing. See his tweets and a rundown in this Teen Vogue article. Personally, in the scene Sierra pretends to be deaf, I saw it coming and was hoping it wasn't going to happen. It was extremely cringeworthy and insulting. I really can't see how anyone thought that scene was funny or appropriate at all.
Many had issues with the catfishing aspect of the plot, and I agree that it was extremely problematic, however, if done in a different way, I think a catfishing plot may have been fine. My biggest issue came with the main kiss in the film. Sierra kisses Jamey while he has his eyes closed and he believes it is Veronica kissing him. This is a huge consent issue and one that honestly made me stop watching the movie soon after. I wasn't rooting for Sierra anymore and I felt that she had taken the situation much too far. The kiss, instead of being romantic and a turning point in the plot, turned into an uncomfortable scene that left me in shock.
This scene could've been different if Sierra's actions had been treated with shock and disgust by the other characters, but Veronica encouraged her to kiss him in the first place and it's portrayed as one of Sierra's triumphs.
While "Sierra Burgess" aimed to be a progress teenage girl's diary of finding love, it instead turned into a problematic mess that hardly achieved anything it set out to do. I had high hopes for this movie, but instead, it seems to be a movie that mostly relies on tropes and cheap jokes with the hopes that it would end up making a statement.