The series, based on the 2007 book by Jay Asher, tells the story of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), who takes her own life after facing numerous traumatic experiences in high school. She records 13 tapes to give to the individuals who she says played some sort of role in her death, leaving her friend Clay (Dylan Minnette) to uncover the harsh reality behind her heartbreaking decision.
The show sheds a light on important issues rarely tackled on screen, but conversations around the subject matter have been mixed. Some believe it presents the truth to teens who might be unaware of what’s happening around them in the form of entertainment. Others, including experts, have said the show “glamorizes” suicide with its graphic scenes depicting death and rape. But creator Brian Yorkey and the show’s writers purposely chose to include those hard-to-watch moments to spark awareness about situations going on in our world every day.
“Facing these issues head-on — talking about them, being open about them — will always be our best defense against losing another life,” writer Nic Sheff wrote in an essay for Vanity Fair. “I’m proud to be a part of a television series that is forcing us to have these conversations, because silence really does equal death.”
Star Kate Walsh, who plays Hannah’s grieving mother on the show, echoed those sentiments in an interview with HuffPost on Build Series Monday.
“People have been reacting differently to showing Hannah in the act of suicide and all the other sexual assault scenes, rape scenes. But Brian was intent on making sure there was nothing romantic or mysterious that anybody could project on to this to make it some dreamy, gothy or some romantic Ophelia moment,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of this idea in the mystery and the shame and the secrecy of suicide that no one talks about, that you can project this idea that it’s all going to be peaceful and blissed-out ... [but] to really deal with depression and mental illness and these huge issues and show what it really looks like if someone tries to take their life ― it’s ugly and it’s really hard and it should be seen.”
Walsh went on to say that watching “13 Reasons Why” should be “mandatory in schools,” as it opens up discussion about the weighty issues many people face day in and day out.
“Parents and teachers and students [should] watch this and have conversations about sexual assault, about bullying, about LGBTQ issues, race issues, gender issues, suicide, depression and mental health, because largely in our country as we see now, it’s still in the shroud of shame or silence,” she said, “So to really see it for what it is and talk about it and get people help, [we can] prevent it.”
There’s no doubt the series is tough to watch, but as Walsh says, it gives children the chance to be honest with each other and their parents about the content they’re consuming and how they’re reacting to it. As most of us know, high school is not always an easy place to be, especially in this social media age where bullying is skyrocketing.
“I think [parents] should watch it with their kids and I really do think it should be mandatory in schools to watch this and talk about it and have education around it,” Walsh concluded. “Unfortunately, a lot of kids’ lives were lost before schools started having conversations and awareness, and communities started having dialogue about it. As long as anything is shrouded in shame or secrecy, nothing good can come from it.”
Watch Kate Walsh’s full interview on “13 Reasons Why” below. The show is now streaming on Netflix.