NOTE: This article contains graphic language that some readers may find offensive. It also contains spoilers for Season 2 of ’13 Reasons Why.’ Please read at your own discretion.
An American parental council has called for streaming service Netflix to cancel its popular teenage drama 13 Reasons Why after a young man was shown being violently raped in a Season 2 episode.
The series, which launched on Netflix on May 18, is in its second season after receiving much hype in its inaugural one. Based on the 2007 best-selling novel by Jay Asher, the adaptation follows high school student Clay (Dylan Minnette), who discovers 13 tapes from fellow student and crush Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), who died by suicide.
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The second season picks up with a lawsuit brought by Baker’s family against the school for failing to protect their daughter. As the story moves forward, viewers learn about a pattern of predatory sexual behaviour by athletes against some female students at the school. As we’ve seen on multiple TV shows before, the administration at the school ends up prioritizing the “jocks” at the expense of all the other students.
In the final episode of Season 2, character Tyler (Devin Druid) is raped by a school bully with a mop handle after being viciously beaten in the bathroom. It’s then implied that he contemplates a school shooting massacre as revenge.
Based on the events of that finale (in addition to other themes), the American censorship advocacy group Parents Television Council wants the show removed from Netflix, saying it’s a real danger to present morbid, dangerous ideas to teenagers.
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“Netflix has delivered a ticking time bomb to teens and children who watch 13 Reasons Why,” said PTC President Tim Winter. “The content and thematic elements of the second season are even worse than we expected. We would have liked to have 13 reasons for hope and redemption following the graphic suicide of the lead female teen character, but rather than providing a path forward, the season only provides cause for despondency.”
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“If you come into the series with feelings of hopelessness or depression, you’ll never walk away from the series feeling any better,” said PTC Program Director Melissa Henson, who watched the entire second season. “And if you’re not feeling that way, the series will make you feel hopeless and depressed. For kids who are already at risk, who are being bullied or abused, the show may only serve to trigger those feelings and create dangerous real-life circumstances. We urge parents and schools to be alert and on guard in the weeks and months ahead.”
The show’s executive producer, Mandy Teefey, has defended the show in the past, saying that real high schoolers endure this type of trauma and intensity in their everyday lives.
“I wouldn’t tell anybody how to parent their own child,” she said to ET Online. “That’s up to them. I feel that we gave it as a platform and a tool [for parents and kids to have a] dialogue. The fact that we’re talking about it and that it was so talked about, that was our goal.”
“I would just suggest that they Google the news,” she said specifically about the rape scene. “It’s shocking, it’s horrific, but it’s happening. There’s videos that people post and that’s online forever. It’s [in] the culture, so just look it up and educate yourself that you need look out for this.”
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13 Reasons Why creator Brian Yorkey has also defended the graphic scene.
“We fully understand that some of the scenes in the show will be difficult to watch,” he said. “I think Netflix has helped provide viewers with lots of resources for understanding that this may not be the show for everybody, and also resources for people who do watch it and are troubled and need help.”
“But the fact is that, as intense as that scene is, and as strong as the reactions to it may be, it doesn’t even come close to the pain experienced by the people who actually go through these things,” he continued.
For its part, Netflix added trigger warnings prior to two particularly graphic Season 2 episodes (including this one). There is also a 30-minute special following the finale addressing the importance of acknowledging mental health issues.
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“While many of our members find the show to be a valuable driver for starting important conversation with their families, we have also heard concern from those who feel the series should carry additional advisories,” Netflix said in early May.
Global News has reached out to Netflix for further comment.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868) all offer ways for getting help if you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse or is involved in an abusive situation, please visit the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime for help. They are also reachable toll-free at 1-877-232-2610.
— With files from Katie Scott