Two years after the show's premiere, Netflix has chosen to remove a graphic depiction of suicide.
For those unfamiliar, 13 Reasons Why focuses on Clay (Dylan Minnette), a teenager trying to figure out why his friend Hannah (Katherine Langford) ended her own life. She leaves tapes behind providing thirteen reasons for her choice.
The scene in question took place during the season one finale. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the scene was nearly three minutes long and portrayed Hannah's last moments after cutting her wrist in graphic detail.
Psychologists were concerned about young viewers watching the show without guidance or supervision, and about the potential for the scene to romanticize or sensationalize suicide. Ron Avi Astor told NPR that normalizing the behavior could make it "contagious" among vulnerable teens.
When the scene was originally released and concerns were raised, Netflix added a warning to the beginning of the episode.
Now the edited scene depicts Hannah looking into her bathroom mirror, and her parents subsequently discovering her body.
"It was our hope, in making 13 Reasons Why into a television show, to tell a story that would help young viewers feel seen and heard and encourage empathy in all who viewed it, much as the best-selling book did before us. Our creative intent in portraying the ugly, painful reality of suicide in such graphic detail in season one was to tell the truth about the horror of such an act and make sure no one would ever wish to emulate it. But as we ready to launch season three, we have heard concerns about the scene from Dr. Christine Moutier at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and others, and have agreed with Netflix to re-edit it. No one scene is more important than the life of the show and its message that we must take better care of each other. We believe this edit will help the show do the most good for the most people while mitigating any risk for especially vulnerable young viewers."
Back in 2017, one of the show's writers, Nic Sheff, claimed the depiction was necessary because it was so graphic and disturbing. He wrote in his Vanity Fair column:
"When it comes to suicide, I believe the message should be exactly the same. Facing these issues head-on—talking about them, being open about them—will always be our best defense against losing another life."
The takeaway for aspiring filmmakers and showrunners should be mainly that, if you're considering including a scene of graphic violence or disturbing content in your own project, you should carefully weigh the pros and cons of doing so. Have compelling reasons to support your decision beyond mere shock factor.
Also, as we can see from this situation, you may need to be willing to make concessions to your project even years later.