13 Reasons Why has plucked some very sensitive nerves, but the author and several rape victims have defended why the series had to be so graphic and dark.
13 Reasons Why is one of the most talked-about series on Netflix right now, and it is an adaptation of the New York Times best-seller book, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. 13 Reasons Why follows the story of Hannah Baker, a girl who committed suicide and left behind 13 tapes explaining the reasons for her action. And while the series has moved a lot of viewers to tears, the sensitive nature of 13 Reasons Why has many people concerned whether the series has become yet another exploitation of once taboo topics like rape and suicide.
A word of warning, spoilers might be up ahead, so tread carefully if you haven’t watched or finished the show.
As many reviews, like one by Refinery29, have commented; 13 Reasons Why is not an easy show to watch. It deals with a lot of painful things that people may not feel comfortable knowing or talking about.
Throughout the series, one of the most sensitive, albeit crucial parts in the plot is when popular jock Bryce (Justin Prentice) forces himself on an unconscious Jessica (Alisha Boe). This particular scene occurs throughout 13 Reasons Why from different perspectives of the characters.
Later on, towards the end of 13 Reasons Why, another graphic rape scene surfaces, this time between Bryce and Hannah (Katherine Langford), where Bryce forces himself on Hannah, who doesn’t even gather the strength to say “no.”
Many television critics, as The Globe And Mail also stated in one of their reports, believe that women being raped has become quite common on TV in general. Game of Thrones, alone, has been revealed to contain at least 50 rape acts and 29 rape victims during the show’s run.
This is why 13 Reasons Why has gone under the microscope for zooming in on rape, and sexual assault is slowly becoming a common trope in drama series.
The author of the original book, Thirteen Reasons Why Jay, Asher says via Buzzfeed, however, that the graphical and offensive nature of the rape scenes had to be created the way they were to allow the message of the series to come across.
“Some people said it was too graphic, but it’s a graphic thing. It’s like they’re saying it’s never appropriate to show it. And then if you’re saying it’s never appropriate to show it, then you’re saying it’s something to be hidden.”
“If we’re doing this, it can’t be something that you can look away from or just gloss over in your mind. You have to be uncomfortable when you’re watching it; otherwise you’re not in her mind. In a way, it’s disrespectful if we say, ‘We know this stuff is happening, but we don’t want to be made uncomfortable by it.'”
Actress Katherine Langford, who played Hannah in 13 Reasons Why, told Hollywood Reporter that the rape and suicide scenes were shot in a raw and graphic form. This was crucial to the plot and to help the message reach its audience.
“Everyone really wanted to show it as truthful as possible. We realize that it is an important issue. The way it’s being represented in past popular TV shows, it has romanticized it and used it as a plot device. When we shot that scene in particular, I had been playing her for six months and had gone through everything she had gone through up until the point, and I realized that this isn’t just a story about Hannah. This girl represents so many people. And this story belongs to everyone who is watching it. It is confrontational and it is ugly, and we needed to show that because we needed to show the truth. I was also at the point of having played this girl for 16 hours a day, six days a week for six months, and when episode 13 came around, doing that scene was hard for me because I had to let her go. I grew so close to her as a person, and she’s not just a character — this happens to people every day. I didn’t want to let her go.”
In fact, despite some viewers’ objections to the graphic nature of the suicide and rape scenes in 13 Reasons Why, many women—some even rape victims themselves—have turned to voicing their opinions to support how the series approached these subjects.
Stay at home mom Malorie Ann shared that the fact that 13 Reasons Why makes people understand the severity of these crimes is important in understanding and supporting the victims.
“I’m a sexual assault survivor and the first rape scene caught me off guard because I had not read the book. It was so real and almost exactly what happened to me 10 years ago, my PTSD [Post-traumatic stress disorder] was triggered and I had to take a break from watching. However even though it triggered my PTSD I thought it was extremely important that it did, that meant it was realistic and they didn’t turn away from it like most shows do. I think people who have not experienced assault needed to see it and how uncomfortable and horrible it is.”
Emilee Allison also speaks about people who are shooting down 13 Reasons Why for the way it handled the rape and suicide scenes.
People are complaining about how graphic it is — imagine living it. Imagine having someone stronger than you, bigger than you, in control of you, forcing you down and forcing themselves inside of you. Think of that before whining about something you can turn off.
UCLA student Jasmin Ayala even goes as far as saying that as a sexual assault victim, the portrayal of rape in 13 Reasons Why has been the most accurate among the many television dramas that have shown a violent sexual assault. She believes the portrayal of rape is something that people should learn about and not close their eyes to:
“However, I wholeheartedly agree that having such a raw and realistic depiction of the event and the suppressed aftermath is extremely critical. As someone who has experienced sexual assault, I haven’t related to any other cinematic portrayal of rape than this. It makes sense, you want people to understand you situation, yet when they try they project this barrier of distance in order to not feel the severity of rape. It’s real. It happens people. And it is disgustingly uncomfortable. As twisted and strange as it sounds it truly does help to see these raw moments depicted on a television show where people who cannot relate suddenly realize that this is actually a real thing that makes and breaks human lives.”
At the end of the day, Selena Gomez, who was supposed to portray Hannah in 13 Reasons Why but ended up as a producer for the series, says in a featurette via Gold Derby that everything that went into the making of the Netflix drama boils down to wanting people to understand the severity of rape and suicide.
“We wanted to make something that can hopefully help people because suicide should never be an option.”
13 Reasons Why released its 13 episodes on Netflix on March 31, 2017. If you haven’t yet, you can watch the full series on Netflix here.
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[Featured Image by Netflix]