“That’s why I think it must be hard to be a boy,” new girl Ani Achola (Grace Saif) says in a police interview. “Because they still have no idea what a man is. Men and their rage, and their insecurities, their fears. And all the things they do to keep those things hidden away.”
Ani is a Black girl and an immigrant — whose mother (Nana Mensah) has immigrated twice over her lifetime — meaning the teen has one of the most vulnerable identities possible in America. And she is inexplicably worried about wealthy white boys? The kind of wealthy white boys who have gotten away with high crimes like serial rape and murder? Because, remember, Ani’s narration comes from the present 13 Reasons Why timeline where she is trying to protect Alex Standall (Miles Heizer) from a homicide arrest. It feels unlikely someone like Ani would be so very torn up over the poor Bryce Walkers (Justin Prentice) and Alexes of the world.
Ani might be generally annoying, as Twitter is extremely happy to bring up. However there is more to 13 Reasons’ Ani Problem than her incessant and bizarre meddling. In a sea of established girls of colour at Liberty High, Ani seems like an absolutely impossible character.
When you pull back from all the shady memes and Twitter drags about Ani, you’ll realize her true problem is that she has no real backstory. Early in season 3, we learn Ani changes schools often as the daughter of an in-home nurse. The Achola women go where the job is. So, Ani has no real social roots. If Ani were a side character — like, say, fellow newbie Charlie St. George (Tyler Barnhardt) — that would be enough information for viewers to go off of.
But, Ani isn’t a side character. She’s the backbone of the 2019 season as the narrator. From the beginning, 13 Reasons Why has been a series about going beyond the surface and showing what really makes a person tick. That is why each episode of season 1 was built around a series of flashbacks. History matters.
Ani has no such history to clarify her unexplainable actions or the reasons she is the anchor of the season. This is a brand new character who has read the news stories about Bryce’s monstrous behaviour and been warned by Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) about just how dangerous her new housemate is. She even witnesses Bryce doing drugs and throwing glass around his home. Bryce’s mother (Brenda Strong) warns Ani to be careful around her son. Still, she flirts with him until those advances escalate into an ongoing sexual relationship.
Ani knows Bryce was accused of raping Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) and got away with it. How are viewers supposed to accept that Ani never wondered what Bryce could do to her, a Black immigrant girl, with impunity? Imagine how much more interesting Ani’s decision to sleep with Bryce could have been if she grappled with that question and still did it anyway (and 13 gave us a contextual flashback into her own messy past to boot). Rather than needing to scream on Twitter about Ani’s erratic behaviour, we could actually empathize with her.
Although 13 Reasons Why does little to make us connect with Ani — her immediate desire to interrogate everyone’s favorite characters only isolates her — it has built up wells of good faith for people like Sheri Holland (Ajiona Alexus) and Nina Jones (Samantha Logan).
Over the first two seasons of the series, Sheri has proven herself to be a loyal friend, fantastic team player, and all around thoughtful individual. This is a fact that becomes obvious as Clay and Justin (Brandon Flynn) investigate Liberty’s awful baseball clubhouse throughout season 2.
And although Nina was a new addition last year, she became a much needed foil for Jessica Davis (Alisha Boe), as another girl of colour dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault. Not only did Nina help support Jessica's recovery over season 2, but she also encouraged Jessica to hang out with other Black teens — something season 1 never even broached. The result was a very fun and thought-provoking conversation about race between Jessica and her dad (Joseph C. Phillips), a Black man. It was easy to understood why Nina was a part of this story and how she improved it.
Sheri and Nina were dropped from season 3 without any explanation or mention. Both characters’ portrayers may have found new series — Ajiona Alexus with Light As Feather and Samantha Logan with All American — but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the slightest nod of remembrance. Especially since their vanishing act coincides with the disappearance of any real conversations about Jessica’s biracial identity, which was one of season 2’s best plot points, and Marcus Cole (Steven Silver), someone whose identity revolved around the tension of his race and his lofty dreams. All of a sudden nearly all of the fascinating questions about race in 13 Reasons' wealthy California suburb have dried up.
If 13 Reasons Why thought throwing Ani into the Liberty mix would compensate for the loss of Sheri, Nina, Marcus, and Jessica’s complicated identity, they were wrong. Maybe they'll be a little bit less wrong when it comes to Ani in season 4. A single flashback would certainly help.