When the first season of Netflix’s supernatural series Stranger Things premiered back in 2016, its cast of child actors quickly took the world by storm.
The show follows a group of kids in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, and the young cast is made up of Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, and Millie Bobby Brown.
They were all between 10 and 14 when they filmed Season 1, and as the show has grown in popularity so has the cast’s star power.
Over the years, the group have attended conventions around the globe while also using their surging social media profiles to interact with their millions of dedicated fans.
In fact, Noah is often going viral for his online shenanigans, which recently included a run-in with Doja Cat, and Millie’s offscreen success saw her feature in the 2018 Time 100 list of the world’s most influential people.
But not every Stranger Things’ child actor has felt the full extent of the fandom’s love and dedication, with Caleb recently opening up about his experience with racism while growing up in the public eye.
Caleb was just 14 when he made his debut as Lucas Sinclair in Season 1, and his character is one of the central roles in the series.
In the early episodes, Lucas was shown to be wary of Millie’s character, Eleven, and her psychokinetic abilities after his friends came across her when Noah’s Will went missing.
However, he eventually realized that Eleven was on their side and welcomed her into the group.
And once Sadie Sink joined Stranger Things as Max in Season 2, her and Lucas’s relationship became another focal point of the show that even featured in the most recent fourth season.
But despite Caleb’s consistently integral role throughout the series, he has noted that he doesn’t seem to receive the same amount of support from viewers as his costars.
In fact, Caleb has the least amount of social media followers of the young cast, and he has also said that lines to meet him at conventions have been markedly shorter than his peers.
Now 20, the star opened up about his experience during an appearance at Heroes Comic Con in Belgium, where he admitted that the treatment he received in comparison to Noah, Finn, Gaten, and Millie “affected” him “a lot” when he was younger.
Caleb also recalled the moment that his parents told him that he was “the least favorite” and had fewer followers because he is the “Black child” on the show.
“My very first Comic-Con, some people didn’t stand in my line because I was Black,” Caleb explained during the live Q&A. “Some people told me: ‘Oh, I didn’t want to be in line because you were mean to Eleven,’ even now some people don’t follow me or don’t support me because I’m Black.”
“Sometimes overseas, you’ll feel the racism,” he went on. “You’ll feel the bigotry, and sometimes it’s hard to talk about and for people to understand.”
“When I was younger, it definitely affected me a lot because — this is a deep conversation right now — 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,’” Caleb said.
As of September 2022, some of Caleb’s costars have over 10 million more Instagram followers than he does, with 15.4 million people following Caleb.
Gaten has 18.7 million followers, Finn 26.3 million, Noah 27.6 million, and Millie 58.5 million.
Sadie, who joined the show a season later, has 24.9 million followers.
“My parents had to be like: ‘It’s a sad truth, but it’s because you’re the Black child on the show,’” Caleb remembered. “Wow, that’s crazy. Because I was born with this beautiful chocolate skin I’m not loved?”
But Caleb refuses to stoop to the level of the racists, and added: “That’s why, with my platform, I’m going to spread positivity and love because I’m not giving hate back to people who are giving hate to me.”
Caleb’s comments were met with cheers of support from the convention's crowd, and when a video of the moment was shared online, other Stranger Things fans were quick to share their heartbreak at the way that the star had been treated over the years.
Others were keen to point out that one of the show’s villains, Billy Hargrove, has a dedicated fanbase despite the character being racist toward Lucas.
“Black actors are always on (the) receiving end of hate and racism in their real lives over FICTIONAL characters they portray meanwhile white actors play literal villains and their characters will be adored and thirsted after,” one person wrote on a Reddit forum. “Like Billy from Stranger Things who has a huge fanbase because they found him hot despite that fact that the character was a racist pos.”
Someone else tweeted of Billy: “And yet somehow.. this racist ugly disease infected dirty low down thing still has a big fanbase who call him ‘baby’ and write fan fictions about him despite the fact that he targeted lucas simply because he was black. the stranger things fandom can go to hell.”
Another tweet read: “No because white characters in that series have done way worse than be (mean) to a character and have people excusing everything they do 24/7.”
“This is why i will always ride for the black characters in any show. the way these predominantly white fan bases be acting towards them is not discussed enough,” one fan wrote.
Another person commented: “One of the reasons I kinda fell out of Stranger Things was how people continue to treat Caleb. It's sickening. He's a talented actor and people don't give the same love as the do his white co-stars. It's exhausting.”
Someone else tweeted: “It’s sickening knowing that at such a young age caleb had to be told by his parents why he’s not as popular/has as many followers as the other cast members, and ppl still think racism isn’t an issue go to hell.”
It was also pointed out that Caleb’s experience sadly isn’t unique, with one person acknowledging that Black people are often left out when it comes to ensembles.
“I remember Leigh Anne from Little Mix always talked about being the least liked member from the beginning and feeling hurt by that,” one person wrote.
Leigh-Anne Pinnock was one of four members of British girl group Little Mix, who won the 2011 series of The X Factor UK. Last year, she released a BBC documentary called Leigh-Anne: Race, Pop & Power, where she spoke openly and emotionally about the way that fans treat her compared to her white bandmates.
It followed a tearful Instagram video that she had posted where she revealed that she’d experienced fans ignoring her at concerts and refusing to cheer for her while she was onstage.
"I sing to fans who don't hear me or see me or cheer me on,” she said at the time. “My reality is always feeling anxious before gigs or signings because I always feel the least favored.”
Similarly to Caleb, Leigh-Anne is the least-followed member of Little Mix on Instagram, and she has also called out the microaggression of herself and her bandmate Jade Thirlwall, who is also a person of color, often being mistaken for each other even after 10 years in the public eye.