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’13 Reasons Why’ Sparks Conversation

Makayla Keelin, Wil Kennedy, Bailey Bruton

Makayla Keelin, Wil Kennedy, Bailey Bruton

Sam Newman, Staff Writer

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WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS AND MENTIONS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT/RAPE AND SUICIDE.

The new Netflix Original Series “13 Reasons Why” had a similar warning message about sexual assault/rape and suicide in the opening of three of its episodes. Based off the novel by Jay Asher, 13RW discusses the heavy topics of bullying, sexual assault, and rape that lead to the suicide of Hannah Baker.

Ever since the release of all 13 episodes (one for each reason, according to Hannah, why she killed herself) on March 31 on Netflix, the show has quickly gained momentum and sparked conversations due to the important topics discussed on the show.

This show originally began as a movie after the film rights were bought by Selena Gomez and her mother Mandy Teefey with the intention to create a motion picture with Gomez as the lead. Almost seven years later and many changes to the development of the story, 13RW was released with Gomez and Teefey as Executive Producers of the project.

Although Gomez did not star in the series, she remained on the project due to her personal involvement with the message and how it relates to her and her fan base.

Unlike the original book, the series has a few changes; a few tapes appear in different orders, another character commits suicide, Hannah’s parents sue the school, and the entire story takes place over a few weeks (versus the book’s one night). Although these are not all of the changes, these are a few that are crucial to the plot as it appeared on screen.

The series has also gained attention for its noteworthy director, Jim McCarthy, who earned many awards for the movie Spotlight in 2016.

The actual plot of the series revolves around Hannah Baker, a sophomore in high school, who reveals the bullying, sexual assault, and rape that lead up to her suicide. She leaves behind her suicide note in the form of 13 cassette tapes that each name one person to blame for her death. By way of a friend, the tapes are passed from person to person until the story of her death is fully explained.

The series also focuses on Clay Jensen, who is the eleventh tape, and his struggle to listen to the tapes due to the fact that he loved Hannah and is still grieving from her loss after his inability to admit his feelings. Unlike the other characters who have listened to the tapes and are conspiring to keep the reasons from the police, Clay battles with himself as he hears each new secret Hannah reveals on the tapes.

The audience of 13RW is dropped into the mystery alongside Clay; it is confusing and frustrating to hear the tapes and understand Clay’s flashbacks to before Hannah’s death. The show reveals new plot twists and evil doings with every new episode–and with episodes that are up to over an hour long due to it being a Netflix Original, there is even more time for suspense.

The story starts off with the “small” secrets of backstabbing friends and hurtful bullying that start the downward spiral of the end of Hannah’s life. But as the episodes continue, Hannah’s dark past divulges. Quickly, the first rape warning episode occurs when Hannah witnesses the rape of an ex-friend while she is unconscious and her boyfriend is knowingly right outside the room.

Just as shocked and angry as Clay, the audience watches as the couple, Justin and Jessica, struggle to mentally accept what has happened. For Justin, his “accepting” means lying to his girlfriend, Jessica, about what happened and hiding from himself that he let his best friend, Bryce, rape his girlfriend. Jessica does not face the reality of her situation (she buys into Justin’s lies and denies the event at first) until in a later episode Justin admits what truly happened.

Now, it may seem that one graphic rape scene is enough for this series, but, unfortunately, the most crucial event is actually when Hannah is raped by the same teen boy later. Again, this episode comes with a rape warning, as expected, because it is even more graphic than the first one. Although no nudity is shown this time, the scene clearly depicts the horrific event– all while allowing the audience into the thoughts of Hannah while she is being raped.

The story has many elements of truth beyond that of the secrets no teenager dares to tell. The series incorporates teen slang, like DTF or FML, and swear words– regular parts of teen life–which are often misused or absent in other “teen” dramas. It’s almost too easy to find oneself personally involved with the story. This isn’t just the case for teens either.

Parents can easily relate to the topics, even if they don’t wish to admit it, they can picture themselves in the show. How would it feel to have a child affected by bullying, sexual assault, rape, and/or suicide and not find out until it’s too late?

13RW exposes the harsh reality of teenage years in a jarring way. The story seems confusing to follow with quick flashbacks between Hannah’s life and after (without the help of subtle lighting changes and Clay’s obvious forehead scar the audience would be lost). It brings to discussion: Why is this show so hard hitting? Why is everyone online and at school talking about it so soon after its release?

The only answer: truth. The series faces the tough topics head on and has an abruptness that frightens the audience into understanding. It hurts to know that a world with teen rape and suicide exists, but this is exactly why it is so important to talk about 13RW.

Hannah may not have recorded a tape on it, but I think her documentation of her story–of her suicide–was most importantly to tell everyone, in her fictional life and reality, how important it is to talk about the truth of what happens every day.

It’s hard enough to face the teen years as it is with hormones, school work, stress, and responsibilities, but the added weight of mental illness and traumatic experiences is an impossible load. Suicide is the unfortunate outcome of this issue and it’s unacceptable.

It’s crucial to note how real this story feels. From the teen humor of abbreviations and high school sports to the harsh realities of bullying and rape, 13RW wears its heart–almost too graphically–on its sleeve.”

It’s crucial to note how real this story feels. From the teen humor of abbreviations and high school sports to the harsh realities of bullying and rape, 13RW wears its heart–almost too graphically–on its sleeve.

Just like the last episode during Hannah’s suicide scene as she slits her own wrists in her bathtub, the audience of 13RW is left open, exposed, crying, and utterly speechless.

If you or anyone you know needs help, please visit 13reasonswhy.info

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