Miles Heizer, who portrays Alex in the buzzed-about teen drama, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the backlash that the show has faced in depicting the suicide of high schooler Hannah (Katherine Langford) as well as the aftermath of her death. Some viewers claim the show, which has Hannah leave behind 13 tapes after her death,"glorifies" suicide by depicting it as an act of revenge. The mental health foundation Headspace believes that showing how Hannah died could be dangerous for those dealing with suicidal ideation. However, despite the criticism, Heizer argues that the brutality of the scene was used to discourage those thinking of suicide from the act.
When asked by THR how he responds to the glorification comments, Heizer stated:
"It doesn't glorify [suicide] whatsoever. It's necessary to show the brutal reality of things. I don't think anyone watched Hannah's suicide scene and was thrilled by it. It's a very realistic depiction and shows what a horrifying experience that is. That's not something anyone would want to go through or have anyone go through."
Heizer, whose character, Alex, is shown at the end of the series fighting for his life in the hospital due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound, told the trade that he had a visceral reaction to Hannah's graphic suicide scene:
"After watching it, I was screaming crying. I was so upset by it. Showing it in that way makes it into a reality as opposed to a glorification. She's not dying peacefully in a bathtub, it's painful and brutal."
Creator Brian Yorkey stressed that the brutality of Hannah's death, as well as the other hard-to-watch moments in the show, was there to create discussion, not be gratuitous. In a letter to the press, Yorkey wrote:
"We enlisted a group of medical and psychological experts to help us accurately portray these events, and to ensure we were being truthful to the ‘how’ and ‘why’ these kinds of things happen; and to show them in some measure of rigorous detail. We wanted to be sure we were serving these issues well, not being gratuitous, not being violent for the sake of being violent — but rather portraying these events in a way that would make their impact unmistakable, and hopefully further the dialogue around these issues in our culture."
When asked how he responds to critics who say the show doesn't offer an alternative to suicide, Heizer told THR:
"I completely disagree with them. That's a really strange position to take on the show. It definitely offers an alternative to suicide. The whole point is showing that Hannah felt like she didn't have anyone where in fact she did and everybody does. [That's the] same with Alex. It's more so about being able to read people and trying to help as opposed to leaving them alone and making them think that there's no alternative when there are so many alternatives out there."
The discussion over 13 Reasons Why will rage on, but perhaps that's not a bad thing. The more we talk about the issues teenagers are facing, perhaps the better we will be equipped, as a society, to actually deal with them.
If you are thinking about suicide, please contact Samaritans on 116 123. All calls are free and will be answered in confidence.
If you or someone you know is considering self-harm, please get help. Call Mind on 0300 123 3393 or text 86463.