13 Reasons Why has been the center of controversy ever since it was released, despite the fact that one of the main reason the producers created the show was to bring awareness to issues of teen suicide and sexual assault. Many people believe that the series romanticizes teen suicide and makes it look like a viable option to struggling adolescents who may think it is the ultimate way to get back at bullies. However, one cast member insists that the show actually does save lives amid the controversy and experts putting the show on blast.
Brandon Flynn, who plays the character of Justin in 13 Reasons Why, says that he attended a high school drama class where he saw first-hand how much the show impacted its target audience. He spoke about a teenage girl who came up to him after his talk to tell him about why the show meant so much to her.
“She didn’t even take the extracurricular drama class that they were supplying, but she came in. She was a victim of self-mutilation and she looked at me and cried and gave me a hug. She said, ‘Thank you so much because my parents have sat down with me and watched this show and they saw such a huge connection between Hannah and me.’ She basically said that her parents started talking to her more and accepting that we’re not just kids and that we have issues and that we have things to talk about and we have feelings. We’re humans. That to me was like, ‘holy s**t.'”
Many expert in teenage psychology have been split on how 13 Reasons Why handles the topic of sexual assault and teen suicide. While some have felt like the portrayal was realistic and responsible, others felt it was far too brash and could be potentially triggering for teens who have gone through similar issues.
Joy Gorman, one of the producers of the show, stated that she thought 13 Reasons Why helped give victims of sexual assault and depression a voice. The young people who were cast in the lead roles, she said, were able to give life to these otherwise voiceless and invisible characters.
Gorman also said that 13 Reasons Why has had an affect on sexual assault survivors of all ages. Alisha Boe, who plays Jessica Davis, a character who is raped during the series, stated that she has had messages from many teenagers thanking her for her honest performance as Jessica. But Gorman says that it isn’t just young woman who are benefiting from Boe’s portrayal.
“And on the other side, I’m not 20 years old like Alisha, but I can’t believe the women my age and women in their 30’s and 40’s who have reached out to me to say, ‘I finally told my father after Jessica Davis told her father.’ It’s pretty powerful to know you’re not alone.”
Many teens have spoken up against the backlash the show has gotten, stating that it helped them deal with some of their problems and helped start otherwise extremely uncomfortable conversations with parents and friends.
Still, others aren’t so convinced that the show is positive. Several schools have advised parents not to allow their children to watch the show, saying that it glamorizes suicide and could up the risk of it. Mental health experts have also stated that they feel like it doesn’t realistically portray the finality of suicide, as the main character of Hannah is still around to tell her story even after her death. A school in Colorado recently banned the original book by Jay Asher, claiming that it was responsible for a recent rash of suicides in the area.
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