October of 2017 brought many exciting things: Halloween, the truth about Harvey Weinstein and “Stranger Things 2.” Unfortunately, the return of this beloved Netflix-original also brought with it many inappropriate comments and expectations regarding child stars.
Viewers might have expected qualms with the storyline, or comments about gratuitous gore but it were the remarks about the teenage actors that really made a splash. Most shocking were comments made by media personnel and critics alike which sexualized and objectified the young actors in the series.
Ranging from 13 – 16 years of age, cast members Millie Bobby Brown, Noah Schnapp, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin are pretty awesome. There impeccable senses of style, as well as their mature demeanors and humility, might make it seem like they’re older than they are. However, it’s important to remember that they are, in fact, teenagers. Young teenagers.
Yet, despite their young ages, they’re often sexualized and held to ridiculous expectations. Fourteen-year-old Wolfhard was chastised online in November for ignoring adult “fans” who had camped outside of his hotel room. He was also the subject of a 27-year-old model Ali Michael’s Instagram post in which she said, “Not to be weird but hit me up in four years.” Thirteen-year-old Brown has been continuously sexualized for her “grown-up” fashion and even has a “sexy” Halloween costume based on her 12-year-old character on the show “Eleven.” The costume goes by the name of “Upside Down Honey.” If you weren’t cringing before, you may do so now.
As unintentional or “innocent” as these comments and actions might seem, they are indicative of a far more sinister problem. When we begin seeing children as “mature for their age” we convince ourselves that behaving inappropriately is okay. Wolfhard fired his agent in November after a string of sexual assault allegations from young, aspiring male actors came to light. Suddenly, “harmless” forgetfulness of an actor’s age doesn’t seem so harmless.
As abhorrent as this behavior and these comments might seem, it doesn’t just happen to the “Stranger Things” kids. Young actors in Hollywood are under immense pressure, dealing with the difficulties of adolescence with the entire world as their audience. They work like adults, are held to the same moral code as adults and get treated like adults as a result. We might be used to things being this way, but that doesn’t mean they should be. As a society we have to change and remind ourselves that fame does not justify harassment. Commentary on a minor’s life, style and sexuality do not “come with the job.” These actors are children, before anything else. On a broader scale, they’re just people, not objects to be examined and used.
New year, new standards: let’s hold ourselves accountable for our behavior and let kids be kids.