“Stranger Things” has become a phenomenon during its six-year run, beating out shows like “Squid Game” as Netflix’s top series, and it’s rightfully earned that spot. Season One came out at the perfect time, amidst an ‘80s nostalgia revival also propelled by films such as the “It” reboot and the now canceled “Glow,” offering adults and Gen Z alike a glimpse back into the past. Despite the show’s creativity, it has failed its Black characters and its Black viewers time and time again.
As the show has moved forward, and with the Volume One premiere of Season Four, it’s clear after six years that the Duffer Brothers still don’t know what to do with Lucas. In Season Three, this was apparent, but in the most recent series it’s abhorrent. Immediately, Lucas becomes a foil for his friend’s Mike and Dustin, prioritizing his new basketball career rather than playing Dungeons & Dragons with his friends. It’s not that he’s lost interest in his companions, it’s that he wants to be popular. “I’m tired of being a loser,” he states, and Mike and Dustin look on at him with mild loathing. Because, of course, it would be unacceptable that a Black person was tired of being bullied, called “midnight,” and physically assaulted by racists like his girlfriend Max’s older brother, Billy.
They don’t show up to his basketball game, and instead bring along Lucas’ sister, Erica, to replace him for their campaign. In swapping out their friend for his sister, we are given a glimpse into the world of Erica, but still, it’s not enough. Erica joined “Stranger Things” in Season Two, to my surprise, as it wasn’t previously known that Lucas had a sister. Her first scene back in 2017 shows her listening in on Lucas’ private walkie-talkie conversation as the two of them share snarky words and nothing more. This is how Erica’s character remains, years later. Other than a brief stint helping Steve, Dustin and Robin evade Russian forces in Season Three, Erica always appears briefly, and not without some witty comeback.
She is fun to watch at times, and that’s all to do with Priah Ferguson’s charisma, but the jokes become old as time goes on. Who is Erica, really, and what is her purpose in this story? Is she a stand-in for her brother’s friends? Is she only valuable as a helping hand when the older crew needs her help (but still manages to keep her out of the loop)? There’s a strange sense of nationalism with Erica’s character as well, with a proud declaration of “You can’t spell America without Erica!” being one of her defining lines in Season Three. In Season Four, she struts down the school hallway proudly, donning an American flag around her shoulders, trailing behind her like a cape, or a beacon of hope. “Stranger Things” and its nationalism in the wake of Hawkins being invaded by Russian forces isn’t necessarily new, but having your sole Black female character’s entire personality built around the love of America is tone deaf at the best of times, but especially today.