Marathoning a Netflix series is an easy hole to fall into. One of Netflix’s newest releases, however, made it a bit more difficult to binge due to the serious nature of its content. 13 Reasons Why depicts a young woman’s struggle with depression through 13 tapes, each addressed to one of the people, or “reasons,” that led her to end her life. This series is based on the book Thirteen Reasons Why, written 10 years ago by Jay Asher. The series is brutally honest in its depictions of loneliness, suicide, and sexual assault, which appear in multiple casette tapes.
The show has received criticism because it does not shy away from these topics, but instead, the producers chose to face them head on when creating the scenes. Both instances of sexual assault in the series are included in excruciating detail on screen. The novel similarly focuses on the assaults in a way that was meant to make readers uncomfortable.
Jay Asher recently spoke about the sexual assault within the series, saying, “It’s uncomfortable, but that’s okay. It needs to be.” Asher’s insistence that these scenes need to be uncomfortable indicates his acknowledgment of the reality of sexual assault, which cannot be sugar coated.
He goes on to say, “Some people said it was too graphic, but it’s a graphic thing. It’s like they’re saying it’s never appropriate to show it. And then if you’re saying it’s never appropriate to show it, then you’re saying it’s something to be hidden.”
Regarding rape as something to be hidden is counterproductive in many aspects. It lessens the visibility of the issue, it keeps rapists invisible which enables the continuation of their crimes, and it makes the victims even more isolated.
Asher was adamant that the reader and the watcher must feel, to the greatest extent possible, what his main character is feeling. He said, “If we’re doing this, it can’t be something that you can look away from or just gloss over in your mind. You have to be uncomfortable when you’re watching it; otherwise you’re not in her mind. In a way, it’s disrespectful if we say, ‘We know this stuff is happening, but we don’t want to be made uncomfortable by it.’”
This approach to sexual assault and the portrayal of sexual assault in media focuses on the reality of the situation. You are not supposed to be able to forget that sexual assault exists and that it is a horrible crime.
In the novel, Asher intentionally wrote the scene so that Hannah never explicitly says “no”. In fact, Hannah addresses this in one of her tapes, saying, “I know some of you listening might think there was more I could’ve done or should’ve done.”
As the audience delves further into the tapes, Hannah reveals that the school counselor, her only confidant, questioned if it was actually rape because she did not say “no”. Asher comments on this part of the scene, saying, “I wanted guys to be uncomfortable when they read it, and both the book and the TV show made a point of noting that Hannah never says no. Because that’s what we always hear, right? ‘When a girl says no, she means no.’ But there are plenty of times when a girl’s afraid to say no for various reasons, and it doesn’t mean, ‘Oh, as long as they don’t say no, then everything’s fair game.’ You need to be a better person than that.”
This choice was made in an effort to expand the conversation past ‘No means no.’ The problem with the current dialogue is that women and men have to question what counts as sexual assault. By writing and producing these scenes in such graphic detail, Asher hopes to spark more conversation that will confront the ugliness and the grey areas of society’s attitude towards sex crimes.
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