Earlier this year, the Netflix drama 13 Reasons Why incited a binge-watching frenzy — and a massive debate about the ethics of depicting graphic self-harm on TV. In the show, Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) takes her own life, and leaves a quasi scavenger-hunt for the people she left behind to explain her reasoning. Did 13 Reasons Why show glamorise self-harm? Or, given its tremendous popularity, did 13 Reasons Why resonate with teenage audiences precisely because it did not tone down its difficult content?
While 13 Reasons Why fever has come and gone, the controversy surrounding the show’s portrayal of may have impacted the way Hulu’s new teen show, Marvel’s Runaways, handled a similar topic. Runaways, which premieres on 21st November, focuses on a group of teenagers who discovers their parents are all members of a supervillain team called the Pride. After making this shocking discovery, the six kids run away and come into their own super-powered legacies on their own.
The runaways' ringleader, Nico Minoru (Lyrica Okano), may not have inherited her parents' propensity for evil — but she certainly inherited their capacity for magic. Nico takes her mother's powerful weapon, the Staff of One. There's a catch: The staff can only be activated by Nico's blood. So, in the comics, Nico has to cut herself before she can summon a spell from the Staff.
Runaways showrunners Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage were faced with a choice when translating this aspect of Nico's character to screen. If this aspect of Nico's powers were included in the Runaways show, it might come off as a glamorisation of self-harm — especially in the wake of the 13 Reasons Why debate. Ultimately, Lyrica Okano revealed that Schwartz and Savage decided to do away with Nico's cutting entirely.
“That’s one thing that’s been tweaked,” Okano said in a New York Comic Con Panel. “Nico does not cut herself. I think for good reason for the show. There’s going to be a lot of young teenagers who are going to be watching the show and we don’t want to promote anything like self-harming because that’s very serious. There is an element of drawing blood, though, I will say.”
Though Okano can't reveal the specific method Nico uses to activate the Staff of One in the show, Nico definitely still uses the weapon. The Staff of One is shown clearly in the show's trailer, glowing lights and all.
With this Runaways alteration, it's clear that 13 Reasons Why was more than a conversation-starter. The show was a culture changer, too, and has impacted the way cast-members like Okano speak about their show. Virginia Gardner, who plays Karolina on the show, was sure to stress that Runaways had violence but it wasn't actually violent.
“You don’t want to do anything that could be considered a part of the problem or desensitising or promote violence. I do think one of the cool things about our show is that’s actually not super violent like there are action sequences but I wouldn’t say it’s promoting violence. I really think that we’re on a pretty safe side of that spectrum and our powers are so fun too, between the dinosaur and the glow-y lights and the Staff it feels more fun," Gardner said.
The takeaway: Runaways is fun, has "glow-y" lights, and, perhaps thanks to the 13 Reasons Why controversy, avoids problematic portrayals of self-harm.
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