When 13 Reasons Why first premiered on Netflix back on March 31, the series met generally favorable reviews and has since grown a rather large fan base, especially amongst teen viewers. However, as time has gone on, 13 Reasons Why has grown to be an increasingly contentious series due to its unwavering depiction of high school protagonist Hannah Baker’s suicide. Popsugar recently covered the details of the controversy surrounding the show and what people on both sides of the argument contend.
The series follows Hannah Baker as she navigates her high school years and eventually commits suicide, leaving behind 13 tape recordings intended for every individual she names responsible for why she took her life. Hannah’s suicide scene, in which she cuts her wrists with a razor in her bathtub, has been the site of most controversy. It is shown in its entirety and is filmed in a frank manner, with the camera meditating on Hannah as she goes through the act of taking her life. The show is based on the 2007 young adult novel of the same name, written by best-selling author Jay Asher. 13 Reasons Why is also co-produced by Selena Gomez.
As well as delving into the topic of suicide, the show also discusses such issues as cyber-bullying, sexual assault, and depression. While some praise the show for shedding light on issues that are often ignored or repressed, some have taken 13 Reasons Why to task for being too graphic and gratuitous, going so far as to argue that the show glamorizes suicide.
The debate has become so heated that one of the writers for the show, Nic Sheff, took to Vanity Fair to pen an op-ed piece to explain why all those involved with the show believed it was the right decision to depict Hannah’s suicide onscreen. Sheff, who was once a drug addict and has attempted suicide himself in the past, claimed the story was one of absolute necessity and spoke to him immediately. “As soon as I read the pilot for 13 Reasons Why, I immediately knew it was a project I wanted to be involved in. I was struck by how relevant and even necessary a show like this was: offering hope to young people, letting them know that they are not alone – that somebody out there gets them,” Sheff explains. “I recognized the potential for the show to bravely and unflinchingly explore the realities of suicide for teens and young adults – a topic I felt very strong about.”
Meanwhile, those on the other side of the debate argue the graphic depiction of Hannah’s suicide might be dangerous to those teens already suffering from mental health conditions. CNN recently reported that several school districts have sent letters home to parents to warn them of the show’s content. The schools – and others that criticize the show – point to reports from such sources as the National Association of School Psychologists, which released a statement describing how research has shown that “exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of death, can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide.”
Whatever side of the argument one lies on, one thing that can be said about 13 Reasons Why is that the show has sparked wide-reaching discussions on important topics such as suicide and mental health conditions. Whether or not the show was right in depicting Hannah’s suicide in the way that it did, the series has succeeded in its goal of trying to bring discussions of suicide and depression to the forefront.
All episodes of 13 Reasons Why are available to stream on Netflix.