Sierra Burgess Is A Loser fails at being inclusive

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By Daisy Hall 3rd Year Psychology

The latest high school film promotes a more realistic body image, but it also promotes being vindictive and offensive.

Off the back of the success of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018), Netflix has released another original romantic comedy entitled Sierra Burgess Is A Loser. At first glance, the movie appears to champion body empowerment and the importance of substance over appearance but is this feat successfully achieved?

Youtube / Netflix

The story follows Sierra Burgess - played by Shannon Purser, aka Barb from Stranger Things - as our unconventional heroine. It is worth noting that the definition used here of unconventional is a plus-sized, literary nerd who is neither particularly large nor particularly geeky. Oh, also she’s naturally ginger and plays in a marching band because why not?

The high school stereotypes are set up clearly by the opening premise. After the hot, bitchy cheerleader Veronica (Kristine Froseth) gives Sierra’s number - instead of her own - to the jock Jamey (Noah Centineo), Sierra and Jamey exchange texts and an attraction develops based on their personalities alone.

Sierra is witty and clever, whilst Jamey has a deaf younger brother and nerdy friends to prove he is compassionate beyond his quarterback image. Whilst I applaud the film as a platform for more appropriate portrayals of reality, surely characterising Sierra Burgess’ loser reputation as being based entirely on her appearance contradicts the very openness the film sets out to achieve.

Twitter / @netflix

It may be worth noting that Noah Centineo plays the romantic male lead in both To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and Sierra Burgess Is A Loser, two original Netflix movies promoting a new image in which Caucasian, model-like actors - which Centineo definitely is - supposedly take more of a backseat. Both films attempt a subtle overthrow their high school rom-com stereotypes, but To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is a more successful subversion of the Hollywood norms.

Having said this, cheerleader Veronica in Sierra Burgess Is A Loser, although realistically imperfect, is revealed to have a stronger moral compass than that of our heroine, despite a surprisingly difficult home life. In fact, Sierra temporarily drives away her friends after a public act of cyberbullying she inflicts on Veronica. The character reversal between the cheerleader and the loser is an interesting decision by the writer (Beer) and director (Samuels) but it only vilifies the protagonist, who we root for up until that point. Especially as Sierra receives no consequences for the action, as an audience she becomes very difficult to like.

Twitter / @ManhattanJan

The fact that Sierra’s characterisation is highly flawed is best demonstrated during a scene in which she is confronted by Jamey playing catch with his younger brother. So Jamey does not recognise her voice from their phone conversations, Sierra pretends to be mute and deaf herself, not realising Jamey and her brother are fluent in sign language. Whilst supposedly humorous, this act of imitation is actually offensive and only serves to alienate any audience members with disabilities themselves. Sierra Burgess does not deserve her happy ending and thus the conclusion leaves the audience frustrated by its poor handling of controversial subject matters.

For all the hype surrounding the more realistic character images within Sierra Burgess Is A Loser, the film becomes ineffective at being inclusive, with several out of touch jokes rooted in transphobia and a mimicking of the deaf. In reality, the film only distances itself from the marginalised communities it is attempting to offer a platform to.

Featured Image: Twitter / @shannonpurser


Do you think Sierra Burgess deserved to fall in love after her actions in the film?

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