13 Reasons Why hit Netflix a month and a half ago, but thinkpieces about the controversial TV series still seem to crop up every day. The show tackles teen suicide in an honest way that few movies and shows have done before it — and there are plenty of differing opinions about how the show chose to address the topic. The controversy has become so widespread that teens at a Michigan high school created a response to the show, called "13 Reasons Why Not."
For people who haven't suffered from, or known someone who's suffered from, depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, it can be difficult to fully understand the criticism of 13 Reasons Why. The show, based on Jay Asher's YA novel of the same name, features a scene showing its protagonist, Hannah Baker's (Katherine Langford) suicide. Critics are worried the show might trigger copycat actions, since it depicted exactly how Hannah ended her life. Others are worried the show portrays a romanticised view of suicide, presenting it as a way for Hannah to get revenge on those who had wronged her. (There's also the fact that, for as much as the show is championed for its "portrayal of mental health issues," they're not actually addressed in the series. Hannah is not diagnosed with depression; there aren't any conversations about depression in the show at all.)
If there's one thing the show captures perfectly, though, it's the feelings teens experience while going through high school. Things are changing, and experiences can seem like the end of the world, when they don't have to be. That's not an attempt to trivialise Hannah and Jessica's (Alisha Boe's) rapes — Bryce (Justin Prentice) should be held fully accountable and punished for his actions, which will have permanent effects on his survivors. But some of the tapes' other events, like Ryan (Tommy Dorfman) publishing Hannah's poem, Hannah losing her parents' money envelope, or Clay (Dylan Minnette) acting awkward, probably wouldn't seem as significant a few years out as they did in the moment. Even if your high school experience is filled with hardship, there's reason to keep fighting — which is what inspired the students at Oxford High School in Oxford, Michigan, to create the "13 Reasons Why Not" project.
For the high schoolers, the Netflix series hit close to home — an Oxford High student named Megan Abbott died by suicide in 2013. To honour her legacy, students at the school put together their own tapes, but they're nothing like the ones Hannah Baker left. The students worked with Juntti's leadership class and the Oxford High staff to create the project, which features students' own stories on difficult topics, including bullying and abuse.
Instead of focusing on a person who hurt them, the Oxford students' "tapes" praise someone who gave them hope. The school is playing the tapes over its intercom system, ABC News reports.
"I think it showed what we go through in high school; I know me myself or a lot of my friends have been through a lot of the situations Hannah Baker had been through," Oxford High senior Riley Juntti told Mashable of the Netflix series. "However, the show was troubling to all of those involved in the project just because it showed as if suicide was almost inevitable, that she had to commit suicide from all these things that happened to her."
Juntii told the outlet that 13 Reasons Why "didn't focus on a lot of the good that was in [Hannah's] life." She also pointed out its "lack of mental health awareness" and resources for Hannah to turn to.
The "13 Reasons Why Not" project is aimed to help students realise they aren't alone, and that it's okay to be struggling. It's a meaningful response to the show — and it's a lot more effective than banning discussion of 13 Reasons Why altogether.