Since Stranger Things first became a streaming phenom in 2016, the Netflix show's young cast has been running up that hill towards global superstardom. But one actor hasn't always felt the love. Appearing at Heroes Comic Con in Belgium recently, Stranger Things star Caleb McLaughlin — who plays one of the show's few Black characters, Lucas Sinclair — said that he often felt that he was treated differently from his white co-stars by the show's fans.
"It definitely took a toll on me as a younger kid," he said in comments that were captured on video and have since gone viral online. "My very first Comic Con, some people didn't stand on my line because I was Black."
here's caleb talking about how he had to deal with racism just because he was "the black kid who was mean to eleven in season 1" and felt like it was important to share his thoughts on that :) #StrangerThings #TUDUM #CalebMcLaughlin @HComicConBE pic.twitter.com/JZoXS9aaBW
— L ☾ met timothée (@spideychaIamet) September 25, 2022
McLaughlin clarified that some of the fan animosity directed at him in the show's freshman season had to do with Lucas's initially adversarial relationship with Eleven, played by Millie Bobby Brown. But even after that storyline went away, he noticed that his character seemed less of a fan favorite than the rest of the cast.
"Even now, some people don't follow me or don't support me because I'm Black," the 20-year-old actor said. "Sometimes overseas, you'll feel the racism, you'll feel the bigotry and it's something sometimes it's hard to talk about and for people to understand. When I was younger it definitely affected me a lot."
One area where McLaughlin sees a continued discrepancy is in the cast's social media stats. His own Instagram has 15.4 million followers compared to Brown's 58.5 million or Noah Schnapp's 27.6 million. "You’re like: 'Why am I the least favorite? The least amount of followers? I’m on the same show as everybody from Season 1,'" he observed, crediting his mother and father with being honest with him. "My parents had to be like: ‘It’s a sad truth, but it’s because you’re the Black child on the show.' [I thought] 'Wow, that’s crazy. Because I was born with this beautiful chocolate skin I’m not loved?'"
McLaughlin's comments echo other Black performers in the genre space. Earlier this year, Obi-Wan Kenobi star Moses Ingram spoke out about the racist messages she had received from a small but vocal minority of Star Wars fans. Meanwhile, Prime Video's hit fantasy series, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, has been review-bombed for diversifying J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth.
"We’re talking about a global show, and a global audience. This is now the reality. This is not about taking the narrow view,” Rings of Power star Cynthia Addai-Robinson told Yahoo Entertainment at San Diego Comic-Con earlier this year. “And to me this is about inviting people in and being expansive. And if you’re going to tell this story in 2022, this to me feels like the only way to tell it, the only way to represent it. And I think people have been really hungry to see full representation in this world. Because at the end of the day this story is all about people of different backgrounds coming together for a common cause.”
It's worth noting that since McLaughlin's comments went viral, Stranger Things fans are trying to spread the love for Lucas on Twitter.
Just had to let @calebmclaughlin know I am incredibly proud and in awe of his honesty about how he is treated compared to his #StrangerThings costars. We will always adore you and @priahferguson over here! 🖤✊🏽🖤
— JJ (@jjroqthemic) September 27, 2022
This Caleb McLaughlin thing really breaks my heart because him speaking out about how he’s been treated won’t make a damn difference
— Mint Julep (@CarEAb) September 27, 2022
Met young Caleb at the studio cafe and he was the sweetest most humble actor @calebmclaughlin just know there is black joy every time a kid that looks like you sees you amongst that crowd. You’re and inspiration, black kids love sci-fi too! Now we can see ourselves in them! https://t.co/9tKcQ2U8TQ
— 🕉 𝔦𝔱'𝔰 ℨ𝔰𝔞'𝔡𝔬𝔯𝔢, 𝔡𝔞𝔯𝔩𝔦𝔫𝔤 ♍️💕 (@ZsaDore) September 27, 2022
This is so sad. He’s one of the best actors on #StrangerThings ! Better than most of the actors who are more popular. I said what I said! You rock @calebmclaughlin! #lucas #strangerthingsfan https://t.co/PmsIkwgqyl
— Vanessa Diaz (@BriteandBubbly) September 27, 2022
This reminds me of the treatment of that boy from this recent season on those red carpets. Y'all know what I'm talking about. The racism in the media is obvious and from the fans. I love that he is not being silent about it. Sending love to Caleb McLaughlin https://t.co/siOIG54Tws
— Jason (StarWind) (@EscaflowneClown) September 26, 2022
That's the kind of positive reinforcement that the actor himself hopes to encourage. "With my platform, I’m going to spread positivity and love," he told the Heroes Comic Con crowd. "I’m not giving hate back to people who are giving hate to me."
Stranger Things is currently streaming on Netflix