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Netflix removes 13 Reasons Why’s controversial suicide scene

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Citing concerns from medical professionals

Beth Dubber/Netflix

Netflix has removed a controversial, explicit scene depicting a character’s suicide in its original series 13 Reasons Why, two years after the show’s original debut.

The company cited advice from medical experts and the upcoming launch of the show’s third season as the main reason, according to a statement obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. As more viewers come to Netflix to watch the show, the company said it wants to ensure proper actions are taken to protect fans.

The scene in question was about three minutes in length and originally played halfway through the show’s season one finale. It explicitly depicted the main character, Hannah, cutting her wrists open and bleeding to death. The new version now jumps from Hannah staring at herself in the mirror to her parents dealing with the aftershock of what happened.

“No one scene is more important than the life of the show, and its message that we must take better care of each other,” showrunner Brian Yorkey said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “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.”

This isn’t the first time medical professionals, parents’ groups, and suicide-prevention experts have criticized Netflix and Yorkey for including the scene. Netflix executives were warned by professionals that 13 Reasons Why’s graphic portrayal of suicide went against every guideline on how to handle the delicate subject matter. Still, Netflix and Yorkey left the scene in. Scientists, however, recently discovered a 13.3 percent increase in teen deaths from suicide following the show’s release.

Authors behind the study published in JAMA Psychiatry in May acknowledged that because there isn’t conclusive evidence that people who died from suicide during the study period watched 13 Reasons Why, it “does not provide definitive proof” that 13 Reasons Why is associated with harmful outcomes.” They did note they found the increase in death overall “concerning.” Results from two recent studies have led scientists and healthcare professionals to voice concerns about the show producing a suicide contagion effect. Researchers have observed that being exposed to suicide or suicidal behaviors either in a person’s personal life, or through media can cause an increase in suicidal behavior — especially in teens.

The American Association of Suicidology, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American School Counselor Association, Dr. Helen Hsu from Stanford, advocacy group Mental Health America, the Trevor Project, and Dr. Rebecca Hedrick from Cedars-Sinai issued a joint statement to The Hollywood Reporter condoning Netflix’s decision to remove the scene.

“This positive change will ensure that 13 Reasons Why continues to encourage open conversation about mental health and suicide prevention — while also mitigating the risk for the most vulnerable teenage viewers,” the statement reads.

Other parties have questioned Netflix’s decision to remove the scene. While some groups advocated against the scene, others have questioned whether excising it is beneficial. Some argue that losing the scene could actually do more harm.

“The argument 13 Reasons Why glorifies suicide is actually made infinitely stronger by removing the suicide itself,” tweeted Myles McNutt, associate professor of media studies at the University of Wisconsin. “Without showing Hannah’s shock and pain, the ‘suicide as revenge’ plan goes too smoothly. I understand the potential harm of ‘how to’ in showing the suicide, but the way it’s depicted is horrifying, and the story is built in a way that you need that horror.”

This isn’t the first time Netflix has agreed to alter a scene or change the direction of a series because of public feedback. In March, the company also re-edited its original movie Bird Box, which originally used stock footage of a real-life fatal train derailment to depict a fictional disaster. The company resisted the cut through three months of controversy and criticism, but eventually cut the shot. More recently, the company promised to cut down on scenes that feature smoking on camera in light of controversy over the most recent season of Stranger Things. Netflix routinely has one of the highest percentages of people smoking onscreen, according to a new report from The Truth Initiative, a nonprofit public health organization, and criticism has stirred change within Netflix.

“Netflix strongly supports artistic expression,” the company told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement about the new anti-smoking initiative. “We also recognize that smoking is harmful, and when portrayed positively on screen can adversely influence young people. Going forward, all new projects that we commission with ratings of TV-14 or below for series or PG-13 or below for films, will be smoking and e-cigarette free.”

But there’s a difference between eliminating smoking on-screen and altering a show’s central drama. In this case, the overwhelming opinion is that Netflix is doing the right thing, especially considering its younger viewers. Even if it took two years to happen.