Netflix Promises Changes in Light of 13 Reasons Why Controversy

Executive producer Selena Gomez and Netflix have now both spoken out in response to the backlash against the hit show

Selena Gomez on 13 Reasons: Selena Gomez pictured with 13 Reasons Why star

(Photo: Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Netflix/AP Images)

Update: In light of the growing concern from mental health and school organizations, Netflix will be adding a warning at the beginning of TV-MA-rated series 13 Reasons Why to alert viewers to the graphic, and potentially triggering nature of the show. Originally, content warnings only appeared on the episodes containing graphic images or scenes, such as the episode depicting the lead character’s suicide. These existing warnings will also get an upgrade, including pointing viewers to 13ReasonsWhy.info for crisis hotlines and resources available in any of the countries where the show is streaming. For Canadians, this link provides the information for Kid’s Help Phone. The updated warnings are expected to appear on Netflix as early as this week. 

Selena Gomez responded to the growing backlash against 13 Reasons Why—and it’s no surprise that the actress turned executive producer is standing firmly behind the controversial Netflix series.

“We stayed very true to the book and that’s initially what Jay Asher created, a beautifully tragic, complicated yet suspenseful story, and I think that’s what we wanted to do,” Gomez told the Associated Press on April 28.

The Netflix series, which depicts the events leading up to the suicide of high school student Hannah Baker, has been flagged as potentially harmful by educators and mental health organizations.

After multiple school boards across Canada raised concerns about the series, the Ontario Ministry of Education instructed schools to keep 13 Reasons Why out of classrooms, citing that it may be triggering for young viewers.

Mental health advocates also raised concerns over the show’s graphic portrayal of suicide, particularly since research indicates this form of media depiction can increase real-life suicide rates. The Canadian Mental Health Association partnered with the Centre for Suicide Prevention and released a joint statement detailing ways in which media portrayals of suicide can be harmful for viewers. The statement notes that such portrayals may:

  • simplify suicide, such as by suggesting that bullying alone is the cause;
  • make suicide seem romantic by putting it in the context of a Hollywood plot line;
  • portray suicide as a logical or viable option;
  • display graphic representations of suicide which may be harmful to viewers, especially young ones;
  • advance the false notion that suicide is a way to teach others a lesson.

While a mounting number of organizations continue to point out issues with 13 Reasons Why, Gomez told AP that she isn’t surprised by the criticism.

“It’s going to come no matter what,” she told AP. “It’s not an easy subject to talk about.”

But that’s just it. Teen suicide and mental health are not easy subjects to talk about; but we all need to remember that just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.

Let’s not use 13 Reasons Why to shutter the conversation surrounding mental health and teen suicide. Love it or loathe it, people of all ages are binging 13 Reasons Why—and that opens a door to discussions that can truly make a difference.

Experiencing suicidal thoughts or mental-health struggles? There are trained professionals ready to help right now. Visit KidsHelpPhone.ca or call 1-800-668-6868 to talk to someone immediately.

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