Since Netflix unveiled its latest breakout show 13 Reasons Why—about a teenage girl who decides to take her own life—schools across the US have sent home letters warning parents of the "extremely graphic" nature of the series. The National Association of School Psychologists also suggested "vulnerable youth" not even watch the show, noting in a statement that "[i]ts powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies."
Officials in New Zealand, however, have taken it one step further and decided that teens under the age of 18 not be allowed to watch the show without a parent. Earlier today, the country's Office of Film and Literature Classification issued a new rating, RP-18, specifically for 13 Reasons Why primarily because the show depicts the suicide of the main character, Hannah, in vivid detail. The series also features disturbing instances of sexual assault, rape, and bullying.
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In a blog post explaining its reasoning for issuing the unprecedented rating, a representative for the Classification Office writes that 13 Reasons Why, which is based on a young adult novel, "does not follow international guidelines for responsible representations of suicide. The scene depicting Hannah's suicide is graphic, and explicit about the method of suicide she uses, to the point where it could be considered instructional."
The scene depicting Hannah's suicide is graphic, and explicit about the method of suicide she uses, to the point where it could be considered instructional.
The representative also points to a statement from The Mental Health Foundation New Zealand, which noted the scene in which Hannah dies "was detailed and lengthy, and is likely to have caused distress and an increased risk of suicide in people who are vulnerable. Research has demonstrated an increased use of particular methods of suicide when they are portrayed in popular media."
The RP-18 rating would require Netflix to increase its number of content warnings, and to include verbal and written help-seeking information. The series already offers a warning before the episode in which the suicide is shown, as well as a 30-minute PSA at the end.
Show writer Nic Sheff has previously defended the content, even admitting he argued for it as someone who also attempted to commit suicide in the past. In an op-ed for Vanity Fair published earlier this month, he writes: "It seemed to me the perfect opportunity to show what an actual suicide really looks like—to dispel the myth of the quiet drifting off, and to make viewers face the reality of what happens when you jump from a burning building into something much, much worse."
He continues: "It overwhelmingly seems to me that the most irresponsible thing we could've done would have been not to show the death at all."
One of the intentions of the show, creator Brian Yorkey told Hollywood Reporter, is to encourage uncomfortable conversations between teenagers and adults about what young people face today. One reviewer called 13 Reasons Why "an authentic, uncensored version of high school than anything we see on broadcast networks or cable."
"If they can talk about what happened to Hannah and Jessica [who were raped] and what these kids went through," Yorkey said, "they can talk about what they're going through in their own lives. That has to happen first before anything can get better."