13 Reasons Why: The Impactful Way Netflix Is Addressing the Suicide Controversy in Season 2
It didn't take long for 13 Reasons Why's first season to elicit some strong reactions from fans of all ages. Netflix's teen drama follows high school student Clay as he navigates the fallout from classmate Hannah Baker's suicide, which is shown in graphic fashion. Following her death Hannah posthumously sends out 13 tapes, the contents of which contain the 13 reasons why she killed herself, which are almost all fellow students. Almost instantly audiences decried the series' bold decision to show her suicide, and also voiced their worries that it might push young people who are already unstable to copy Hannah's actions.
Did Netflix go too far by airing 13 Reasons Why? Or are people overreacting to what's depicted in the show? There's no definitive answer, but with season two on the way, the streaming service wants to make sure there's less of a gray area this time around, if zero gray area at all. In an effort to support the discussions happening about the serious themes in the show — suicide, mental illness, rape, and abuse, among others — Netflix commissioned a research study through Northwestern University's Center on Media and Human Development, "Exploring How Teens and Parents Responded to 13 Reasons Why." On Wednesday, important statistics from the study of more than 5,000 teens and parents in five countries were released, as well as a statement from Brian Wright, vice president of Netflix's original series.
"When we first read the script for 13 Reasons Why, we were immediately blown away by the authenticity of the writing. The script really reflected the world of today's teens in a way they would find authentic and adults would find relatable," he said. "Soon after the season one launch, we saw global conversation explode on the controversial topics covered by the series and understood we had a responsibility to support these important discussions."
According to Wright's statement, "71 percent of teens and young adults found the show relatable," while nearly three-quarters of young adult viewers credited the show with making them feel more comfortable in facing tough subjects. "Some of the findings were unexpected and profound," Wright continued. "More than half of teens reached out to someone to apologize for how they had treated them, and nearly three-quarters of teens said that they tried to be more considerate about how they treated others after watching the show." The full results of the study can be viewed on Northwestern's website.
Wright and 13 Reasons Why showrunner and creator Brian Yorkey sat down to discuss the study's findings at a panel in NYC on Wednesday, where Yorkey noted how the results have affected their season two process.
"The challenge of when you are making a piece of entertainment for young viewers is that you want very much to make something that has a positive impact on their lives, but the instant that you become instructive and try to tell them the message that you want to convey and the right choices to make, they will tune out. They will feel pandered to. From the beginning, we knew that we had to tell the stories as honestly as we could, that we had to portray these characters and the things that they go through with as much authenticity as we could bring to it, and especially that these tough topics deserved the most honestly in order to make something that teens would look at and recognize in this show their lives, themselves, people that they know and things they are going through. That was our mission from the very first moment and it's really exciting to see that born out of the research."
Netflix also announced its taken steps to better prepare viewers when they sit down to watch season two, something that will provide more support for both teens and their parents. The first thing anyone will see when they watch the second season is an introductory video from the cast breaking down the topics the show will cover, which you can watch below. The end of the video directs viewers to 13ReasonsWhy.Info, where they can check out other resources from mental health experts and download the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's discussion guide.
"The hope is that the steps we're taking now will help support more meaningful conversations as season two rolls out later this year," Wright concluded in his statement. "We've seen in our research that teens took positive action after watching the series, and now — more than ever — we are seeing the power and compassion of this generation advocating on behalf of themselves and their peers."