“Sierra Burgess Is a Loser,” the new Netflix rom-com starring “Stranger Things” breakout Shannon Purser and Noah Centineo, is facing backlash over a storyline featuring the titular character pretending to be deaf. The plot point was criticized on social media by model and activist Nyle DiMarco, who is deaf in real life.
“So one of my close friends’ deaf brother is in ‘Sierra Burgess,'” DiMarco told his followers. “When I learned, I was elated. Finally more deaf actors/representation and ASL inclusion in films…Only to find out the deaf character was written and used for a terrible joke. PS- pretending to be deaf is NOT ok.”
The scene in question centers on the first in-person meeting between Sierra Burgess and her love interest, Jamey. The two have been talking over the phone and Jamey is unaware of what Sierra actually looks like since he is under the impression he is taking to another girl, Veronica (Kristine Froseth). When Sierra’s friend Dan (RJ Cyler) forces her to meet Jamey in person, Sierra pretends to be deaf so that Jamey won’t recognize her voice. The joke of the scene is that Jamey’s younger brother is deaf and therefore Jamey is fluent in American Sign Language, so he instantly picks up on the fact that she is signing incorrectly.
Jamey’s younger brothers is played by Cochise Zornoza, who DiMarco noted is deaf in real life. While the activist praised Netflix for casting a deaf actor in the role of a deaf character, DiMarco took issue with the young character being used to set up a joke involving Sierra pretending to be deaf.
DiMarco, one of the most prominent deaf male models working today, also pointed out “there were homophobic and transphobic jokes” throughout “Sierra Burgess.” DiMarco did not mention any of these jokes by name, but the movie does feature numerous characters assuming Sierra is a lesbian based on her appearance.
“It is extremely easy to make jokes about marginalized/disfranchised groups,” DiMarco said, “but that makes you a lazy writer. And honestly you shouldn’t make these jokes AT ALL because our lives are on the line.”
IndieWire has reached out to Netflix for further comment.