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Jennette McCurdy and the plight of child actors

Jennette McCurdy and the plight of child actors

Jennette McCurdy and the plight of child actors
March 28
23:03 2021

Television revivals have been all the rage recently. Whether it be an effort to promote a new streaming service or cash in on an already established property, no franchise or series is ever sacred. Hollywood seldom lets well enough alone and the same can sadly be said for child actors.

The upcoming revival for Nickelodeon favorite, “iCarly,” is part of a long string of shows given a literal second life after a decade of being done. What is grabbing more headlines and attention is Jennette McCurdy’s, who played Sam Puckett on “iCarly,” vocal refusal to participate in the revival despite much of the original cast set to return. What’s more is McCurdy, on recent episode of her podcast “Empty Inside,” expressed disdain for her acting career and says she has no intention to ever go back to acting. A big reason why she quit acting is that she’s not proud of any of the projects she has been a part of. Her one-woman show, “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” is exactly what it implies: relief over losing someone who shaped a destructive upbringing.

Hollywood has a storied history for sequels or reboots but an aspect often pushed to the wayside is how the industry treats child actors. Some of the most successful entertainment franchises put young actors in the center. Jake Lloyd, who played Anakin Skywalker in 1999’s “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace,” was the subject of intense scrutiny and bullying. Going through a rigorous filmmaking process for cinema’s biggest property is hell enough for a pre-teen, but to have death threats directed to a child is an unfair side to fame. Well away from the spotlight, Lloyd’s schizophrenia diagnosis is undoubtedly a byproduct of what he endured as a youth. Today, “Star Wars” remains the world’s most popular and lucrative property.

Fellow former Nickelodeon star Amanda Bynes has had a litany of legal issues throughout the last decade. Although she is making strides to be in a much healthier place and living in a sober community, one wonders how damaging her acting career was to her psyche.

One can find solace in McCurdy’s unwavering conviction to truly leave her acting life behind. She seems to have taken her child acting experiences, which include years of dealing with eating disorders, as brutal but valuable learning lessons. In the podcast, she reveals she was the family breadwinner and her parents depended on her for financial stability. To put a family’s wellbeing on the shoulders of an adolescent is obviously terrible and destructive to the child’s state of mind, but is sadly commonplace in this cut-throat business.

Though the “iCarly” revival will likely be seen by millions and draw high ratings, it is a television show at the end of the day. It is a product, one that will likely be designed to cater to viewers’ nostalgia and fondness of childhood memories. A 20-something-year-old will see it as a fun trip down memory lane, meeting characters they have not seen for over a decade again.

The proliferation of cancel culture, although often misguided, is predicated on some hard truths. Far too many “regularities” in Hollywood should not be treated as institutions. Child actors are more susceptible to online harassment and even death threats than ever before, and the stories of Jake Lloyd and Amanda Bynes show the industry’s callousness in offering any assistance. Jennette McCurdy is a stunning example of someone whose childhood has the familiar trappings of a disastrous upbringing, but has the wherewithal to keep her wits about her. No child should be under such pressure to ensure their family’s livelihood and her resentment of the Hollywood model is refreshing in a time of shameless cash grabs and soulless endeavors.

Featured Illustration by Pooja Patel

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Kevin Diaz

Kevin Diaz

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