Stranger Things/Netflix

Film / TV

‘stranger things’ s3 hails the black girl nerd!

July 8, 2019
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The third season of Stranger Things has been out for a full four days, so the gates are open and if you haven’t seen it then you will trip on a spoiler and hurt your feelings. If you’ve binged it (as I have), then I hope you’ve seen the sun this weekend; and when I say “sun,” I mean Erica goddam Sinclair. Lucas’ (Caleb Mc Laughlin) little sister may have emerged in season two as a mere tool to delve deeper into the Black token’s back story, but she came out swinging with every line, becoming a fan favorite without participating in the primary plot line. Now, not only does Erica (Priah Ferguson) prove why she is fan favorite, the writers also manage to build on her prior magnetism by fashioning a character who is a bonafide Black Girl Nerd.

Entertainment Weekly describes Erica as having a “sassy attitude with empowering confidence…[full of] savage, snarky takedowns,” which is of course MSM for “girl is quick with the clapbacks” — all of which are warranted. Luckily, this won’t be that kind of article, because as “savage” as Erica Sinclair can be, the Duffer Brothers also managed to give her levels of depth akin to the underground Russian Military Installation she was trapped in (then escaped and helped to destroy). A 10-year-old did that. Behind the “sassy” exterior is a Black girl in a very white town, whose parents raised her to demand her worth, because she lives in a country that loves to debate it. Underneath the “savagery” is a 10-year-old Queen Bee who, as a Black girl walking through the world, understands the social anxieties of certain labels attached to her. Behind the sneer of “Nerd!” that Erica used a weapon, is the fear that her brilliance would only bring more hardship. Erica Sinclair is a Black Girl Nerd and behind the mountain of “sassy Black sidekicks”, she stands tall as a beacon of the missing Black Girl Nerd in mainstream media.

They had to do some digging plot-wise — but Erica’s brilliance is obvious from the get-go. She dances around the boundaries of ice-cream-sample policies at the Scoops Ahoy. She sneaks into a Russian facility just to procure a lifetime supply of said ice-cream (because: priorities) driven by the desires of almost any 10-year-old. Because she’s a 10-year-old child in a world that robs Black girls and boys of their chance to just be children. over and over. When thrown deeper into the plot and enmeshed further into the danger that Dustin, Steve, Maya and the Hawkins Crew find themselves in, she still manages to harness her gut (Blackness) to be the voice of reason in schemes putting literal children at death’s door. Priah Ferguson’s performance as Erica is inspired — and not in the “empowering confidence” kind of way. She feels more whole than anything we could have expected from this crew, especially after Billy’s S2 show of racism when discovering the connection between Lucas and Max (Sadie Sink). (A relationship that is barely defined this season, but this isn’t the article for that.)

Erica’s “Come to Nerd” moment is glorious, and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) is a worthy companion on that journey. As someone who capitalizes on his strengths and uses them to get a girl he would sing a duet with while the world is in mortal danger, Dustin is the perfect rep for the power of owning your nerdy brilliance. This entire show is — otherwise why would we be back? Dustin’s vehicle is teasing, but his method introduces Erica to herself and an audience so accustomed to seeing one-dimensional Black girls. She is snarky, no doubt, but she is also a strategical savant, and a Black child, surviving in Middle America of the 1970s/80s. She has a healthy suspicion of these white people with no sense of self-preservation, but she also sticks to her word and won’t let stupidity kill you if she could prevent it. Erica Sinclair has Hawkins Crew energy and I don’t want to be teased: not only do I want more of her, I want more like her.

All hail the Black Girl Nerd that helps save the world from the Russians and the Mind Flayer. Long may she stick around in mainstream Black girl tropes.