The Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” centered around a teenager’s suicide, appeared in subscribers’ queues on March 31, to much excitement and even more controversy.
Given the show’s sensitive subject matter, trigger warnings originally appeared before particularly graphic episodes. The series attracted an army of critics regardless, many claiming it handled the subject of suicide in a dangerous and irresponsible manner.
In response, Netflix is adding a new trigger warning — this one at the beginning of the series before the first episode. It will appear this week, the company said.
“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 a statement published by Variety. “We will add an additional viewer warning card before the first episode as an extra precaution for those about to start the series and have also strengthened the messaging and resource language in the existing cards for episodes that contain graphic subject matter.”
The warning before one episode reads, “The following episode contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing and/or may not be suitable for younger audiences, including graphic depictions of rape and sexual assault. Viewer discretion is advised.”
Another reads the same way, with “violence and suicide” instead of “rape and sexual assault.”
The show, executive produced by actress and pop star Selena Gomez and based on the best-selling YA novel by Jay Asher, culminates in a graphic scene depicting the suicide of 17-year-old Hannah Baker. That isn’t a spoiler: The show revolves around the death of Baker, who left behind several cassette tapes (13 sides altogether) laying blame for her suicide on various actions or inactions by different students.
In 2014, suicide was the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, as The Washington Post’s Bethonie Butler reported, “experts advise against sensational headlines or describing a suicide in graphic detail, which studies have shown can lead to suicide contagion, or ‘copycat’ suicides.”
“Young people are not that great at separating fiction from reality,” Dan Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), told The Post. “That gets even harder to do when you’re struggling with thoughts.”
Indeed, some claimed the show has already had a negative impact on children. Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert M. Avossa wrote a letter to parents in his district that stated he had seen a rise in behavior such as self-harming and suicide threats in elementary and middle schools.
It read, via The Post:
As a father of a teenager and tween, I am very concerned about a dangerous trend we have observed in our schools in recent days. School District personnel have observed an increase in youth at-risk behavior at the elementary and middle school levels to include self-mutilation, threats of suicide … Students involved in the recent incidents have articulated associations of their at-risk behavior to the “13 Reasons Why” Netflix series. The Netflix website tagline summarizes the series theme as follows: “After a teenage girl’s perplexing suicide, a classmate receives a series of tapes that unravel the mystery of her tragic choice.”
The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board in Ontario wrote on its website the show included the “glamorization of suicidal behavior and negative portrayals of helping professionals.”
Many involved with the show have staunchly defended it.
Gomez responded to the criticism on Friday in a brief interview with the AP. She said they “stayed very true to the book and that’s initially what Jay Asher created, a beautifully tragic, complicated yet suspenseful story.”
“It’s not an easy subject to talk about, but I’m very fortunate with how it’s doing,” Gomez said. “I’m overwhelmed, you know. Very proud of it.”
“Many people are accusing the show of glamorizing suicide and I feel strongly — and I think everyone who made the show — feel very strongly that we did the exact opposite,” showrunner Brian Yorkey told the AP. “What we did was portray suicide and we portrayed it as very ugly and very damaging.”
Actors from the show also praised it. Dylan Minnette, who plays one of the main characters, Clay Jensen, appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and discussed the controversy.
“In high school right now, and even younger, kids are experiencing this kind of bullying,” DeGeneres said. “You’re doing a service to parents, to help them with their kids understanding this.”
“The main goal, I think, overall is just to start conversations that we think are necessary to be had and to bring these issues to light,” Minnette responded. “If people are talking about it, we’ve reached our goal. These conversations, people need to talk about this.”