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Christian group asks Netflix to pull ‘13 Reasons Why’ after teen suicides

Dylan Minnette plays one of the people who receive an incriminating cassette after a suicide in the Netflix show “13 Reasons Why.”  Photo courtesy of Netflix

(RNS) — A conservative Christian organization has asked video streaming giant Netflix to pull “13 Reasons Why,” a dramatic series that critics say glamorizes suicide, after several teens who reportedly watched the show took their own lives.

“This is not a partisan issue, not a conservative issue, but an issue of what we’re putting in front of our teens,” said Walker Wildmon, assistant to American Family Association President Tim Wildmon, his father. The Tupelo, Miss.-based group said it has collected more than 30,000 signatures on a petition calling for the cancellation.

“Fourteen-year-old Anna Bright from Alabaster, Alabama, killed herself April 18, 2017, after binge-watching the … series,” according to an AFA letter to Netflix CEO Reid Hastings sent late last month. Netflix, which has more than 100 million subscribers, had not responded to the AFA request as of publication of this story.

But Nic Sheff, one of the show’s editors and writers, has defended the straightforward depiction of suicide on the popular show, which is about to begin in its second season.

Once suicidal himself, Sheff said he survived because he heard a graphic story of suicide that repelled him. He wrote in Vanity Fair last year: “Facing these issues head-on — talking about them, being open about them —will always be our best defense against losing another life.”

While Netflix does not release ratings for its programming, entertainment trade magazine Variety reported that “13 Reasons Why” generated 11 million messages on Twitter, making it the “most-tweeted-about” show of 2017.

The AFA letter said Bright was “not the only one” to commit suicide after watching the show. “Bella Herndon and Priscilla Chiu, both 15-year-olds from California, also took their own lives just days after watching Hannah Baker kill herself” on the show, it read. The character, age 17 in the show, is portrayed by 22-year-old actress Katherine Langford, who was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for her performance.

Netflix’s media relations department didn’t respond to a Religion News Service request for comment. Previously, the company said it would add cautionary messages and post-show resources for viewers.

The show is based on a 2008 novel by Jay Asher. Netflix rated the series MA-17, which means it’s aimed for adult audiences and some material may be unsuitable for those under 17.

Numerous media reports and studies — including one published in the American Medical Association’s Annals of Internal Medicine — note a spike in online searches for information on how one could commit suicide after the show premiered.

An October 2017 JAMA Internal Medicine editorial voiced concern about the show and suggested that the “strong response” to the series “may encourage others to produce similar shows.”

The editorial stated, “This immersion into the story and image may have a particularly strong effect on adolescents, whose brains are still developing the ability to inhibit certain emotions, desires, and actions.” The group called on producers to follow “safe messaging guidelines” when producing such programs.

Additionally, psychologist Dan Reidenberg of Bloomington, Minn., had warned Netflix not to air the series, according to a 2017 Syracuse Post-Advance report. Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, said Netflix “made very clear to me” that cancellation wasn’t an option.

AFA’s Walker Wildmon said the campaign was also an informational effort. He said the series is “a very dark show, but it’s dark towards our teenagers. It targets them, it’s very dark, it glorifies suicide. We’re trying to inform adults you need to keep an eye on what your kids are watching.”

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Mark A. Kellner

19 Comments

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  • Of course they want it removed. The fact that it shows teen suicide, and the kind of activity and looking the other way that leads up to it, makes it truthful.

    Why would they want that? And organization tha5 makes its money from selling religion as the cure for everything? An Organization that has demonized gay people for decades, when gay kids have such a high rate of suicide Precisely because of that kind of message?

  • Because I am felling cynical right now, wonder how they feel about gun control as well. …And my cynicism bore fruit after I googled for their position.

  • I googled them also. What gave me a warm and fuzzy was how they fought to demand the use of the bible for swearing in politicians after Keith Ellison was sworn in using the Koran. They also fought against a Hindu invocation. Just a bunch of fundies.

  • Don’t support the American Family Association. Don’t believe in censorship, except in rare circumstances. And gasp, I’m a Christian! But if I had a teen(s), especially 16 or under, I wouldn’t want them watching “13 Reasons Why” unless it was with their dad and me. I’d want us to discuss their (and our) reactions to the episodes openly and honestly.

    Furthermore, it might not be a good idea for *adults* with a history of depression or bad memories of bullying in their past to watch this series as well. It is awfully dark.

  • Holy hypocrite “churches” have a much stronger correlation to teen suicide than any teen-oriented TV series. They routinely shun, emotionally abuse and even persecute teens that fail to measure up to the unfair pressures put on them.

  • Unfortunately most parents have no control over their teenager’s media diet, especially online. The problem isn’t the show – it’s vulnerable kids whose parents are unaware of their problems (or their extent) and who, unsupervised, can be influenced by the show. Likely many of those suicidal kids had major issues before they watched the series.

  • Christians would be better served looking inward — examining themselves in light of Scripture. Half of these families are most likely divorced and remarried. They need to dismantle Christian Psychology from the perspective of “meds will cure”. See — http://www.ssristories.com I’d bet every one of these ‘suicides’ were SSRi assisted. Good book for Christians — Psycho Heresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity.
    Why does your child have access to Netflix in the first place? Parents are too busy watching “Bad Moms”.

  • On a related note. Have you seen “Crazy Ex Girlfriend”?

    The last season went into some very interesting territory concerning mental illness, suicide and treatment. This is from a show which is largely musical comedy.

  • If a teen is inclined to think in those directions, they will find anything to inspire them. No show, no matter how dark or direct on the subject will be to blame or even be a proximate cause.

  • AFA “christian”?

    in the same world as the Koch brothers are “communist” perhaps.

  • Nothing wrong with the AFA publicly requesting Netflix to stop putting teen suicide on a pedastal.

    Especially since you have a JAMA editorial and a professional psychologist already making clear that this show got some real problems in this one area.

  • I signed the petition for Netflix to remove the show…But I decided to watch the show not realizing that I had watched it before with my granddaughter{s}… I will agree with some that some of the material was a bit overbroad{graphic on the sexual part}…but if the program is viewed by a teen and their parent…I see no issue with it. Now…I am a Christian…So I am going to ask the Christian community…what have we done to help children, teens and young adults? God told us to bare one another’s burdens. We live in a cruel world…As a Christian, a rape survivor, child abuse survivor {physical and sexual}, and no I haven’t really lived up to the word Christian…Not preaching!!! But someone just told me that I’m human, a child of God!!! {John 3:15 -17 says… 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.} Now you can believe it or not… So my questions to some who have made comments on a subject that is totally off what the original topic is about…Why? Don’t bad talk those that you think have the same mind set as others…If you sit back and realize that ALL groups of people have and are being demonized…FYI Religion isn’t what saves you…Jesus does…Again believe it or not. I’m not asking Netflix to remove the show but… What they had at the beginning of episode 1 with the actors being open and speaking and telling where they could go for more info or even help…should have been at the beginning of each episode…not the introduction…if they considered to long… Netflix did put a more intense warning on the episodes that had very explicit sexual scenes…But again…How is Netflix viewed? Someone has to pay for it… As for showing a very graphic scene of the actor commenting suicide…please someone tell me what happens in your action movies? Someone is killed by some means and one sees it as though it is real… I’m sorry but I see no difference. 13 Reasons Why…should open up every person’s {Christian or Non-Christian} eyes to what goes on in the life of teenagers and young adults…oh younger children as well…Don’t sugarcoat this world…it is cruel and it only gets worse as time goes by. Being a once victim of a lot of what went on in this program, knowing the emotions {hurt, hopeless, alone, failure, used, and yes I too wanted to end it all…many times…more thoughts than action…but I did attempt it} that were portrayed by the actors hit straight to my heart and all those feelings and bad memories came to mind…but I am a person that I have tried to be very open with my children and now grandchildren…they know my past…so they know I have a heads up on some of things that get to them. I am so sick and tired of the gun free zone, drug free zone and now bullying free zone…Stop kidding ourselves and own up to what is truly happening in school…college too. So in closing…the show is a lesson that adults and yes Christians need to face…most of all the bad things in my life happened before I became a Christian…so I can truly answer the question…where was God?? He was there with me…why do I know that…because I have lived it and share my past…I’m not ashamed…sure of the things I did…but not what was done to me…I’m a survivor in more than one way and I praise God for that. People need to take off the blinders and face the real world…and 13 Reasons Why…opened that door…to the parents who feel or felt that this program lead to their children ending their lives…they were already hurting inside before they watched it…my heart goes out to you all…this isn’t a people problem…it’s a society heart break…

  • The American Family Association is a “Christian” organization in the same way that the Ku Klux Klan is a civil rights organization.

  • And since it is the AFA, I’m sure the series very gay-positive message has nothing to do with it.

  • Kind of ironic that a puritan wants to “Hays Code” media content when his own literature is laced with code violations.

  • Do the parents nor know how to turn off the TV? Or, are they completely unaware of what their kids are watching?

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