Shannon Purser Responds to Criticism Over Sierra Burgess is a Loser
After the trailer for Sierra Burgess is a Loser came out, everyone (im)patiently waited for the movie to drop on Netflix. Fans were so excited for a film that focused on a plus-size main character, especially after the streaming platform’s Insatiable fiasco.
Sierra Burgess had a lot of high expectations to live up to. With the massive success of Netflix’s previous teen rom-coms, The Kissing Booth and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, there was definitely pressure for the movie to perform just as well. And with Noah Centineo and Shannon Purser starring as the main characters, fans were sure it would be a hit. For the most part, it was — but a lot of people also pointed out problems they had with certain parts of the movie. Some fans accused the film of being transphobic and homophobic, among other things, and not everyone was a fan of Sierra’s actions.
Those critiques are totally valid. Scenes such as when Sierra pretends to be deaf in front of Jamey’s actual deaf brother, and when she kisses Jamey without his consent, are problematic AF. The viewers know that, and Shannon, who plays Sierra in the movie, argues that that’s the point!
“I think it is absolutely fair to criticize what Sierra does because what she is doing is wrong,” Shannon tells Clevver exclusively. “I was really interested in exploring this flawed character, like, what motivates her to act in this way? What insecurities are people who do this dealing with? And also exploring, is there room for growth? Is there redemption for people who do things like this? So, it has been interesting to see how some people are very vehemently sure that she should not be forgiven, that she should not have a second chance, whereas others are resonating with her.”
Sierra is definitely a flawed character, and Shannon thinks that’s why there’s some miscommunication about the film’s theme and message. Some viewers might have been under the impression that they’re supposed to root for Sierra the entire time when, in reality, the character isn’t supposed to be 100% likable.
“It’s interesting because I think a lot of the confusion is coming from the fact that Sierra maybe is being marketed as sort of a fluffy, teen rom-com when, in reality, there are a lot of underlying issues,” Shannon says. “I think there is romance, but it’s also a commentary on Internet culture and the way that society pressures young women to compete against each other and conform to a certain ideal. [High schoolers say] insensitive things. Or speak without really thinking about the ramifications of their actions. I think there is definitely a reckoning for Sierra at the end, where she realizes all of the evil that she saw in the world around her is now coming from her, and she has to deal with that.”
We won’t spoil the movie, but toward the end, Sierra does some pretty messed up sh*t. Things end up working out for her and all of the other characters by the time the credits roll, but Shannon says if Netflix orders a sequel, she’d like to see the characters address the mistakes they made in the first movie and learn from them.
“I would like to explore Sierra as a more healthy and morally good person,” she says. “I would like to see her continue on her journey of self-growth and self-acceptance and for all of these characters to learn from their mistakes and move forward as better people.”
Despite the problems with the movie, it’s still a big step forward in the movement to diversify Hollywood. To have a plus-size woman in a lead role of a film, sadly, isn’t all that common yet… but Shannon’s excited to be someone who is helping to change that.
“Ever since there has been a standard for what beauty is, you know, that means that somebody is left out,” she says. “And for a very long time, being plus-size meant that you were not beautiful, and I just know how damaging that was to me and to my self-image growing up, and I really hope that I can even be a small part of a change that makes that different for young girls especially.”
The actress adds that she wished things were changing faster, but she has been seeing more and more opportunities for actors of all types — and that will only get better as time goes on.
“I see more scripts written specifically with a plus-size girl in mind, which I think is really cool,” she tells us. “I think there is kind of hope. People are recognizing that Hollywood and the movies that we are making, which are supposed to be reflections of the world we see around us, are actually not and have very limited perspectives, and people want to change that, and that starts by giving more diverse creators a chance to be in the writers’ room and be directors, you know? And I am excited to see those changes happening.”
Stay tuned for more from our interview with Shannon Purser!