Netflix removes controversial scene from '13 Reasons Why' but have they missed the point?

Nearly three years after Netflix premiered 13 Reasons Why, they announced this week that they have removed the scene that caused an outcry when it first premiered; a graphic depiction of a teenage girl taking her own life. But have they taken away the one element of the show which didn't glamourise the concept of suicide?   


I have always found it hard to watch 13 Reasons Why. On the one hand, the Netflix show creates awareness on topics like suicide, mental health, depression and sexual assault. It centres on a  teenage girl who, after dying by suicide, leaves behind 13 tapes trying to explain what lead her to that point and as well as generating controversy, it did generate awareness. On the other, not all of it was positive awareness.

Related: 'I’m pushing back against the stigma surrounding depressive illness and suicide'

Now, with the show entering its third season, Netflix is in a sense, taking a step back. They’re going back to the initial 2017 first season of the show and removing the three-minute sequence in which Hannah kills herself, and is found by her mother.

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This is the statement the streaming outlet released:

"We've heard from many young people that 13 Reasons Whyencouraged them to start conversations about difficult issues like depression and suicide and get help — often for the first time," Netflix said. "As we prepare to launch season three later this summer, we've been mindful about the ongoing debate around the show. So on the advice of medical experts, including Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, we've decided with creator Brian Yorkey and the producers to edit the scene in which Hannah takes her own life from season one."

Irresponsibility vs "ongoing debate"

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Netflix has always plugged the "ongoing debate" angle in response to the controversial depiction of self-harm and suicide. Early critics of the show accused the creators of mishandling both topics and glamourising suicide. Indeed, a study showcased a massive 28.9% increase in teen suicide the month after 13 Reasons Why debuted in 2017, the highest increase this particular study ever measured, something they said the series directly contributed to. It's a fine line when it comes to raising awareness and as yet Netflix doesn't appear to have gauged that especially well.

Critics have said that by removing the scene, they are taking away the only element of the show which was not only deeply upsetting to watch, but the one horrifying dose of reality it had going for it. 

Netflix took some steps, adding trigger warnings and now with the show due back in the limelight this summer, the removal of a central, and highly disturbing scene. But some critics have said that by removing the scene, they are taking away the only element which had the one horrifying dose of reality it needed to stop it from being totally glamourised.

It's been long said that the entire concept of the show glorifies the idea of suicide because it immortalises Hannah - a teen who died in tragedy - after her entire school becomes obsessed with her and the tapes she left behind.

An article featured in the Washington Post summarises this perfectly:

But Hannah’s actual on-screen death is what shatters this illusion that high school suicide is somehow glamorous. [Hannah's death] is horrifying to watch onscreen, a stark contrast to the tape plotlines which gloss over the actual act. Once you actually see Hannah kill herself, see her mother discover her body in the tub of blood, it makes the stark reality of suicide clear.

Netflix has done away with this to take measures to safeguard its younger audience which should be applauded, but the very basis of her death is still glossed over in the series as a whole. The fact that they've used her death and effectively said she can still tell her story via audiotapes even after she's taken her own life is glamorising and deflecting from the tragedy that occurred  - and that remains a very big problem Netflix has yet to respond to.

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