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jenna ortega as wednesday
jenna ortega as wednesday
Culture > Entertainment

Who is Bullying Wednesday Addams?: Exploring The Depth Of Inclusion Within Netflix’s “Wednesday”

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCLA chapter.

If you have been online since the release of Netflix’s hit show Wednesday, you have doubtless seen a hundred versions of the Wednesday dance on TikTok. Thousands have hopped onto this viral trend imitating the ’80s-inspired goth-club dancing choreographed by leading actress Jenny Ortega. 

jenna ortega as wednesday

To any outsider witnessing the unbelievable popularity of Wednesday, it may seem like goth culture is reaching the mainstream. Fans are making popular Spotify playlists full of alternative music according to Wednesday’s taste and fashion influencers are styling all-black outfits in celebration of Wednesday’s style. But is the goth subculture— a music-based counterculture rooted in free-thinking and finding beauty in darkness— really being accepted in the mainstream, or is this just a short-lived trend that will be discarded for the next viral dance?

Well, if viewers take anything away from Wednesday, it should be a message of acceptance and inclusion. Wednesday puts a supernatural twist on the classic coming of age storyline of teenage outcasts rebelling against social hierarchy. The show follows a teenage Wednesday Addams after she is expelled from her “normie” school for retaliating against the water polo team for bullying her brother (by releasing a school of piranhas in the school pool). Wednesday transfers to Nevermore Academy, a high school for supernatural teens including werewolves, vampires, sirens and more. But Wednesday’s dark attitude and goth fashion separates her from her classmates, leaving her an outcast among outcasts. The show stakes a clear stance against bullying and ostracism as Wednesday stands up against the school’s social hierarchy and oppressive traditions. 

jenna ortega as wednesday

The show itself has its flaws in casting outcasts. Many have criticized Wednesday for portraying its most prominent Black characters as bullies. Bianca Barclay, (played by Joy Sunday), is a fan-favorite character, though she is initially labeled a “self-appointed queen bee” and set up as one of Wednesday’s major antagonists through the start of the season. In a different strange writing decision, the Black Mayor, Noble Walker, (played by Tommie Earl Jenkins), owns Pilgrim World— a theme park that pays homage to murderous colonizers. He is also the father of Lucas Walker, (played by Iman Marson), who dresses as a pilgrim whenever he stalks and harasses students from the Outcast school. 

“(The Black characters in Wednesday) feel like they weren’t written to be Black,”

Kailynn Johnson, Refinery 29

In a show about the consequences of social hierarchy and oppression, it makes little sense to cast Black actors only as bullies and oppressors without addressing how race is such an integral part of social hierarchy. Kailynn Johnson of Refinery 29 wrote that, while she and other Black fans loved watching Bianca and Lucas’s character development, she was disappointed that their Blackness felt so unintentional. “They feel like they weren’t written to be Black,” Johnson wrote, “just to check a diversity box so (executive producer Tim Burton) wouldn’t have to deal with questions about the show’s lack of it.” Johnson fears that future installments of Wednesday will follow in the footsteps of other popular TV shows that failed to develop Black characters in their sophomore seasons. 

Considering executive producer Tim Burton’s controversial past with diverse casting, it’s not surprising that Wednesday lacks nuance in its casting decisions. Burton has long defended his exclusion of people of color from his productions. In a 2016 interview about his film  Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (in which the only Black character is also a villain), Burton argued that it is offensive to criticize the lack of diversity in his films. “I grew up watching blaxploitation movies, right?” He said. “And I said, ‘that’s great.’ I didn’t go like, ‘OK, there should be more white people in these movies.’” Burton’s quotes suggest that he views diversity more as a quota to be filled rather than a meaningful addition to his films. This is ironic, since his films are known for featuring misunderstood characters who are excluded from society. These stories could meaningfully promote diversity and inclusion with the addition of diverse casts, but Burton seems disappointingly set in his ways.

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netflix / penguin random house

Even with its flaws, it’s clear that Wednesday wants to promote inclusion. However, internet creators are arguing that a real-life Wednesday Addams would not receive the warm welcome that the Internet has shown Jenny Ortega. Some TikTok creators, having been outcasts like Wednesday, believe Wednesday’s alternative style and attitude would cause her to be bullied in real life. It might be the case that Wednesday has truly pushed a love for alternative presentation into the mainstream; on the other hand, love for Wednesday may just be a surface-level trend that does little to meaningfully promote acceptance and difference. 

If we want to hold onto hopes that viewers took home the anti-bullying message of Wednesday, then we should believe TikTok creators when they lip-sync along to the song behind the viral Wednesday dance trend. The full lyrics of Lady Gaga’s Bloody Mary go: “I won’t crucify the things you do…. (Gaga Gaga Dum dum, da-di-da.)”

Elyse is a San Francisco native and third-year majoring in Linguistics and Computer Science at UCLA. Ask her about herself so she can tell you way too much!