I finished watching this Netflix series last week and even had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Derek Luke, the actor who played Mr. Porter, and his family this weekend. So I’ve been sitting on this for a little while, letting it marinate until I was ready to comment.
The series, if you don’t know, centers around Hannah Baker, a 17 year old who kills herself and sends out audio tapes with the 13 Reasons Why she did it. The content of the tapes discusses friendships and loves lost, bullying, drinking, sexual assault, and possibly depression. I say possibly because the series didn’t really elaborate on mental illness being a possible factor contributing to her death. It was more Hannah blaming others for causing her death.
So let me say a few things about this series. Many of the things that happened to Hannah happen to almost every teenager, but not every teenager commits suicide. Let’s start small and discuss some of these topics.
The friendships she lost, the loneliness, the bullying. Some kids kill themselves on these reasons alone, and it’s a good reminder that our actions affect others, and we need to be mindful of that. This could touch upon depression slightly, but I didn’t see it that way.
Drinking to numb the pain. Many people do this, adults included. Although this part was centered more on her friend than Hannah, it’s worth mentioning.
Sexual assault. This happened to both Hannah and her friend, and may have been the final nail in her coffin. Or maybe it was Mr. Porter’s poor response to a clearly troubled girl.
Her “friends” failed her, but Clay did not. He may have been confused about where their relationship stood, but he did not contribute to her death. But there were two people who could have helped Hannah and didn’t.
The teacher and the counselor saw signs of trouble, yet weren’t equipped to deal with them until after her death. The teacher who received the anonymous note asking about making the pain stop, although she briefly discussed it in class, stopped right there. A call for help like that should not have been ignored. It should have been forward to the counselor, who then should have met with each and every student in that class to determine who needed help.
The counselor, who only saw trouble too late, made accusatory statements toward Hannah about the sexual assault that were close to victim shaming, weren’t helpful, and then let her go. There were other options for Hannah besides pressing charges or just moving on. If Mr. Porter had merely gotten Hannah to someone better equipped to counsel on sexual assault, she might not have committed suicide. And at the very least, he should have made a phone call to her parents. Mr. Porter certainly failed Hannah, and largely contributed to her death.
Some people say this series glorifies suicide and makes the statement that if you kill yourself and justify it with a note or in this case, tapes, you’re right and they’re wrong and suicide is good. That way of thinking couldn’t be further from the truth. The point behind this whole idea is that we really need to think about how we treat others and how our actions and inactions affect others.
This series brings up some difficult topics to discuss, and shows some graphic and horrifying scenes, but I encourage everyone to watch it. It will be worth your while. And it may even change you for the better.