You can’t spell America without Erica.
Starring Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink, Natalia Dyer, Priah Ferguson, and Maya Hawke, Netflix’s “Stranger Things” returned for its third season and people have been binging their hearts out for the past four days.
The wildly popular horror/suspense thriller series created by the Duffer Brothers has been a surefire hit out of the gate across multiple generations for reasons ranging from Gen X nostalgia of years past to millennial curiosity of cultural artifacts long gone.
Well, at least that was the catch at first. Nowadays most of us are tuning in to see what our favorite residents of Hawkins, Indiana are about to get themselves into next.
Welcome to Hawkins 1985
It’s the summer of 1985 and our favorite band of nerds are growing up and discovering things about themselves and their environment, as all teenagers do.
Last season, Eleven closed the portal to the Upside Down and citizens of Hawkins seem to have forgotten about the oblivion that was visited upon them in each of the prior three seasons.
Part of the reason why I enjoy the young characters of the series is the way they are written and portrayed. Through all the macabre and interdimensional horrors of battling Mind Flayers and Demigorgans, they’re unapologetically childlike and are made to behave as children do and not as adults.
Eleven and Mike are in a full blown puppy love arc as the series begins, much to the chagrin of Hopper, Lucas is clueless to the nuances of maintaining his relationship with Max, Dustin returns from vacation in Utah and claims to have the perfect girlfriend, who most of the group believes doesn’t actually exist.
Meanwhile, Will, the youngest of the boys who was trapped in the Upside Down world in the first season, is unsure of his place in the group as his friends seem to be growing up without him. Hopper and Joyce, played by David Harbour and Winona Ryder, are also trying to figure out their own feelings toward one another.
As these things occur, a nefarious Russian plan to reopen the portal to the Upside Down has come to fruition, and a darkness that was once limited to in our world has figured out a way overcome his barriers and manifest evil in Hawkins.
Though “Stranger Things” has received almost universal praise, a sticking point for many people of color was the lack of diversity outside of Lucas. His parents, who made only one appearance, and little sister Erica Sinclar, played by Priah Ferguson were largely absent in the first two seasons. Priah herself only appeared in four episodes leading up to this season.
However, after some Black Twitter criticism, the Duffer Brothers upped the ante on representation by giving Erica Sinclair, Lucas’ little sister, a prominent role in the season 3 arc.
Stranger Things season 2 scene-stealer! Queen of One liners! Lucas’s little sister Erica Sinclair (Priah Ferguson)
Ferguson becomes the comedic catalyst and intellectual foil to the protagonists throughout the arc with quick insults, put-downs and tons of little sister attitude that combined the sensibilities of many of our favorite black sitcom younger siblings of all-time.
Dee Dee from What’s Happening, Michael from Good Times, Arnold from Diff’rent Strokes and Rudy of The Cosby Show are but a handful of the more obvious forebearers of the torch that Priah was handed in this role.
For his part, Lucas is about as clueless as ever, a fact that did somewhat bother me throughout the first season of the series. Though he was as intelligent and creative as the others in the arc, his overconfidence in his abilities often leaves him with egg on his face. He’s a boy, trying to be a dude, in a world gone haywire with super-scientific occurrences.
However, I feel that this is what makes Erica such an important character. She not only challenges both Lucas, his friends and the older teenaged allies they encounter but shows that her smart ass quips actually force the others to re-access careless assumptions to piece together the many clues that eventually lead them to their revelatory moments throughout the show.
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Additionally, the manner in which she and Dustin engage one another throughout the show was very well done. They had excellent chemistry.
From a character perspective, it was much more likely that she’d be familiar with Dustin than any of the other characters seeing as though he is her brother Lucas’ best friend. Well done, in my opinion.
Over the weekend, there was more than one social media post admonishing the “smart ass, disrespectful mouth” of Erica Sinclair. And much of said admonishing came from black women of a certain age.
Indeed, it appeared to speak to the deeper cultural dilemma in which black girls have historically been expected to be seen and not heard, obedient and kindhearted.
It was a telling expose on how it is sometimes uncomfortable to see black depictions that are counter to our own ideals of “blackness” rather than those that, while still being just as black, are counter to said ideals.