Barb Is Back To Battle Slut-Shamers On Riverdale

Photo: Curtis Baker/Netflix.
This post discusses upcoming plot lines on the show Riverdale.

If you tune into Riverdale on the CW tonight then you are in for a major treat: Shannon Purser, who you know and love as Barb from Stranger Things, is back as a new character that fans of Archie Comics may remember.

As Ethel Muggs, Purser is once again battling a monster, but not the slimy Upside Down dwelling kind. This time it's something much scarier, and much more dangerous: the cocky, manipulative slut-shaming high school boy. With Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica (Camila Mendes), and yes, even Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) by her side, Ethel leads a pack of powerful young women to stand up against the local bully who is spreading rumors about his sexual conquests. Ethel is one of them, but she has no time for that kind of inappropriate bullshit. In Purser's words, "Ethel is really such a strong character. It takes an incredible amount of strength to speak out against bullying, shaming, or abuse. Like Barb, she isn't afraid to be honest about how she feels, even at the risk of rejection from her friends."

Whoever was brilliant enough to cast Purser in the series really nailed it, because she is just as intelligent, loyal, and inspiring in real life. Refinery29 caught up with Purser via email in between takes for her newest film, Sierra Burgess Is A Big Loser.

The 19-year-old actress opened up to us about THAT Stranger Things speech, a potential romance between Ethel and Jughead (Cole Sprouse), and why she thinks women's magazines are failing at inclusivity (a fact that we can't help but totally agree with).

You’re playing Ethel Muggs on Riverdale, one of the characters who appeared in the original comics. Did you read Archie growing up? What about Ethel’s character sparked your interest?
"I never really read Archie, but I remember seeing the comics while checking out at the grocery store and my mom has mentioned that she used to read them! I really had to do some research to kind of learn about the characters and about Ethel specifically. One of my favorite things about her is her potential. In the comics, Ethel is mostly known for chasing after boys, but Riverdale's Ethel is smart, compassionate, and creative."

In the comics, your character is crushing hard on Jughead and spends most of her days vying to be his girlfriend. Will we see a relationship between you and Cole Sprouse unfurl? I know you are in a few more episodes, so I really hope the answer is yes!
"I know there have definitely been talks about Ethel's romantic future and Jughead could definitely be part of that, but as of yet, Ethel is really going through too much to even think about boys. It would be cool to see her have a romantic relationship and she and Jughead would certainly be an interesting pair. We'll just have to see!"

We finally meet you in episode 3 through Betty, who is dead set on getting revenge on the football players after Veronica is “sticky mapled.” The narrative is based on a sadly prevalent trend: slut-shaming. Ethel is brave enough to help the girls (dramatically) retaliate against the well-connected jock, Chuck. Can you talk about some of the similarities between her attitude and Barb’s from
Stranger Things?
"Ethel is really such a strong character. It takes an incredible amount of strength to speak out against bullying, shaming, or abuse. Like Barb, she isn't afraid to be honest about how she feels, even at the risk of rejection from her friends. They're both complex, thoughtful women with no time for romance and a lot of loyalty to their friends."

How do you feel about starring in an episode that focuses so heavily on slut-shaming and the emotional repercussions it can have on young women? What do you want audiences to take away from the narrative?
"Ethel didn't do anything sexual with Chuck, but even if she had, she would not have been deserving of the way he treated her. I hope that all the viewers take this to heart. I hope they all see Ethel's pain and realize that the things they say and do have real, concrete repercussions and that they will think before they speak. I hope that we as a society will stop reducing and insulting women with an ugly label like 'slut.'"

A lot of Ethel’s identity is tied to the fact that she is tall and not stick thin (even being referred to as “Big” Ethel in the comics), and in the episode, she is again referred to as a “big girl.” I noticed on your Twitter than you also recently tweeted about size inclusivity in women’s magazines. How did you feel about those lines being included? What do you think can be done to promote a more inclusive and empowering world for women?
"Honestly, I think the media has done no favors for plus size (and even average sized) men and women. The standards are starting to change in a positive way, but that doesn't change the fact that there is such little variety of body types on TV. In terms of Ethel, I was a bit uncertain about her storyline at first. I think the idea that all plus size girls should be emotionally devastated by their weight is unhealthy and insulting. I'm glad to say that Ethel is much more than her size and I'm very proud to be an example for men and women who may not have a typical Hollywood body. Representation changes everything and I'm so thankful to be part of that change."

Let’s switch gears to
Stranger Things, Season 2. It is officially happening this Halloween. How much Barb can we expect to see? (#JusticeForBarb.) Will you be clearing your calendar and binging along with the world?
"I'm so excited for season 2 of Stranger Things!! The show is always going to hold a special place in my heart and I feel so lucky to have been a part of it! I'm so happy to hear that there will be justice for Barb, but I know about as much about what that means as you do! I guess we'll just have to wait! I know I'll definitely be watching."

I noticed you stopped by our Refinery29 booth at the Screen Actors Guild Awards — what a speech from David Harbour! What was it like being on stage with your cast for such a memorable moment? (Shout-out to Winona!) What other future projects do you have on your radar? Are there any actors that you are just itching to act alongside of?
"Being up on that stage with the rest of the cast is a moment I'll never forget. David's speech was so powerful, and we were all just blown away! It was a very emotional moment for me, and I feel so grateful that I was able to be there to celebrate the success of our amazing team. I'm so proud of the whole cast and can't wait to see their future work! As for me, I'm keeping very busy! I just finished an incredible horror movie called Wish Upon that will be in theaters on June 30, and I'm currently working on my amazing new movie, Sierra Burgess Is A Loser. There are so many actors that I'd love to work with, but Brie Larson, Viola Davis, Meryl Streep, and James McAvoy are definitely near the top!"

Riverdale is filling the teen-drama shaped hole in my heart, but my real guilty pleasure is watching The Bachelor with three-peater Nick Viall. Are you part of the Bachelor Nation, too? What are you watching when you are not working?
"I'm not much into The Bachelor, though I definitely love my reality TV (hello America's New Top Model). However, most of the time, you'll find me watching dramas like The OA and Daredevil."
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