Many of the actors of Netflix’s top-rated show Stranger Things have received love, attention, and support from the show’s fandom since its beginnings in 2016. Even though his character has been on the show from the very beginning, Caleb McLaughlin has not gotten the same affection from fans as his costars. In fact, Caleb has dealt with much racism from the show’s viewers. At Heroes Comic Con Belgium last month, he spoke about the toll it took on him at a young age.
Recounting his first Comic Con experience, he shared that he had fewer people stand in his line to meet him because of his race. Some people even told him that they didn’t want to meet him because his character was mean to Eleven, which is strange considering that there is another character who received much love and support despite his entire character arc being based on the fact that he’s a mean, nasty, and terrible person to many people for no reason at all. This lack of support had a great impact on him at a young age and left him wondering why he was the least favorite even though he was a main character just like his praised costars. Caleb also shared that he discussed this with his parents, who told him that it was “a sad truth” that the lack of support came from the color of his skin. From this though, Caleb has decided to express love and positivity on his platform, refusing to show people the same hate that they show him.
While much of the racism exists off the screen, it was brought into the show during the second season with the introduction of Max, Lucas’ eventual girlfriend, and her stepbrother Billy – the mean, nasty, and terrible character that was mentioned before. In this season, Billy warns Max to stay away from Lucus because “there are a certain type of people in this world that you stay away from” and Lucas is one of them. While many people think that Billy’s hatred for Lucas comes from his distaste for Max and the fact that she was happy with Lucas, The Duffer brothers stated in an interview that Billy’s comment was rooted in racism. While this may have been obvious to some viewers more than others, it was still odd to see that Billy had a dedicated fan base despite his cruelty and overall terrible personality. By excusing his actions and refusing to acknowledge Billy’s behaviors as terrible and intolerant, fans inadvertently overlook the totality of Lucas’ character as a Black boy living in a small, predominantly white town. Even though race isn’t a huge theme within the show, and this addition was used to emphasize Billy’s character more than Lucas’, the viewer’s reactions to this scenario still have an effect on how viewers see Lucas as a character and Caleb as an actor.
Caleb isn’t the first celebrity to experience racism while on the job. Riverdale actress Ashleigh Murray, who played Josie McCoy, also experienced racism from the show’s viewers. In 2020, a Twitter troll claimed that Ashleigh’s character and the other characters in the Black girl group Josie and the Pussycats were written off of the show because she’s “a known diva”, hard to work with, and refuses to work with other women. This is a line that is often used toward black women in the TV industry, although there is no proof or knowledge of their behaviors on set.
A similar, more recent example of off-screen racism can be seen with the live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid that’s set to come out next year with Halle Bailey playing Ariel. Since the announcement of her portrayal, and especially since the release of the official teaser, there have been many cruel comments about Halle, her portrayal of the character, and the “logic” behind a mermaid being Black. With this though, Black Twitter came to her defense with some heavy-hitting tweets, including my favorite which questions critics’ surprise about the existence of a Black mermaid despite the large number of Africans that were thrown overboard during the transatlantic slave trade.
While there are many other examples of talented celebrities facing racism and bigotry, whether in the TV and film industry, music, or sports, we continue to prosper as a community and share our talents with the world. As long as these celebrities continue to spread positivity on their platforms and we as viewers defend and support them, Black excellence can continue to grace our screens and inspire us to persist even when we are faced with adversity.