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Sierra Burgess is Problematic: An opinion piece on the new Netflix original film

 *Spoiler Ahead* 

The fall semester is in full swing and we all know what that means: procrastination via Netflix. 

And with all of Netflix’s new original releases, it seems like every day there is a new movie or TV show to watch. Following hot on the heels of the ultra-successful “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”, Netflix released “Sierra Burgess is a Loser” (and re-cast Noah Centineo which I don’t think anyone is upset about). Romantic comedies are usually a hit-or-miss genre, and the latter of these releases was definitely a miss. 

What “Sierra Burgess” does is it normalizes the catty women stereotype, bullying, lying, and even sexual harassment. The title character commits all of these atrocities with a “woe is me” attitude and still comes out of the mess with a boyfriend and a hot new Spotify single. I watched this movie with some friends as soon as it came out and we all had similar series of reactions: skepticism, uncomfortable laughing, falling in love with Jamie, and then some more skepticism, and then complete frustration. 

The first issue we picked up on was the way that Sierra utilizes her “victim status” to gain control and treat people poorly. Because she hasn’t had a lot of success with guys in the past, she uses this to justify her catfishing Jamie. She then leaks photos of Veronica and her awful ex-boyfriend because Jamie kisses Veronica, even though Jamie is completely unaware of who he has been talking to. When Sierra is upset at the fallout from this, her mom tries to comfort her but Sierra immediately pushes her away and delegitimizes her sentiments because her mom is “tiny”. By doing these things, Sierra’s character promotes the mistreatment of others in order to improve your own self esteem; this character also maintains the idea that to be overweight is to be unpopular and unloved, which is utter idiocy. Hollywood continues to exploit overweight actresses by putting them in these roles which, in my opinion, garners an unfair stereotype.

 The other serious issue that we noted was the normalization of sexual assault. I assume that the scene in front of Jamie’s car was supposed to be funny and romantic but in reality, it was to its core sexual assault. Jamie had no idea who he was kissing and therefore had no way to decide whether or not he wanted to which is not okay. The double standard of women being praised for harassing men should not be accepted. Think about if the scene had been reversed and a man covered a woman’s eyes so another man could sneak out from underneath a car (like seriously what???) and kiss her. There would be public outrage, and for good reason. It isn’t okay to hide under cars and just kiss people, that is not how real, sensible people act. It’s not cute or quirky, it’s terrifying. 

So throughout the whole movie Sierra lies about who she is, the fact that she’s deaf, betrays her new friend who has been nothing but kind to her, and blames everyone else for the issues that stem from her own debauchery. But somehow, she still wins. There’s another kiss in front of Jamie’s car (this time with consent) and she drops a fire song about sunflowers or something. This film enforces the narrative that as long as you feel sorry for yourself, you’ll come out successful. 

Everyone bends to Sierra’s will in order for her fairytale to play out. Despite the flawed plot and negative message that the film (I believe inadvertently) sends, the acting in the film was strong and the actors were very impressive. I would not discourage anyone from watching the film because I think it adds to the overall narrative of how youth is treated in Hollywood as well as contributing to the discussion of body positivity and sexual assault. So go ahead and watch it, just know that you might be cringing a solid amount of the time.

 

Political Science Major at Marquette University
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