Monday, January 6, 2014

Black Girl Nerd: A Nightmare On Elm Street 4's Sheila


Sheila Kopecky was a part of the ensemble group of eclectic teenagers in the most fashionable Freddy flick in the bunch, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master in 1988. Truly a fictional character in rare form (Black, female, nerd), Toy Newkirk's portrayal of the bookish, innovative, yet cool kid, go-to gal Sheila is a homage I'm paying that is long overdue. Described as my doppelganger by some, my kindred spirit by yours truly, Sheila was an important part of the Elm Street franchise.

How? Simply by being an 'alternative' representation of black female bodies on screen which in the 1980s was near non-existent. In the 2010 documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, Newkirk claims Elm Street 4 director Renny Harlin asked her to 'sound more black' in her scenes. Unfortunately, many of us know what what means (the satirical Hollywood Shuffle or even Spike Lee's Bamboozled are good examples). Harlin denies this discursive battle on set.

Either way, Newkirk opted to make the short-lived character her own by being an authentic, natural addition to the group of teen-aged friends. She not only made creating bug zappers and studying for science tests sexy, but she didn't play to the typical neck snappin' sass that those in Hollywood seem to equate with being Black and female.

Sheila was Final Girl Alice's (Lisa Wilcox) dear friend who becomes Freddy's victim du jour by exploiting her asthma. One could imagine that one, Freddy has a thing for sisters or two, is simply a sadistic mastermind. I would say both! When he caresses Sheila's bottom lip with one finger ever so tenderly then snatches her over-sized glasses off her pretty, little cherub head, "Wanna suck face?" is maybe a relatively well-known Freddy one-liner. More demand than request, you gotta hand it to Mr. Krueger for a least attempting to be a romantic. Sheila's "no" was useless and makes it hard not to at least chuckle.    

Clearly written as a character destined to be a trapped soul beneath Freddy's charred flesh, it's important to remember Sheila for who she was. Although minor in role, a general rule of thumb for the films we love is that we remember the little things, the nuances that were a part of making a film so defining for each of us. Sheila was that character for me and then some.

                                                                                                         
Toy Newkirk, the woman, has had a consistent presence in the entertainment industry since the late 70s to the present. She's had one time and reoccurring guest spots on shows like A Different World and Living Single. She has spent her professional time behind the camera as a producer and writer for talk show Born To Shine with Tyson Beckford, A&E Biography, and much more. With her busy schedule and all, she continues to make her presence known at horror/genre film cons to hang with her friends from the cast and meet the fans.

Sheila remains one of the most oddly remarkable characters in horror. Newkirk continues to maintain an oddly remarkable position on the entertainment compound considering the numbers of women and people of color working within. From Elm Street to Time Warner, I consider Newkirk's career progression to be one of pure inspiration.
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