Netflix Alters Graphic '13 Reasons Why' Suicide Scene After Controversy

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Courtesy of Netflix

More than two years after the 13 Reasons Why season one finale stirred controversy over a graphic suicide scene, Netflix has edited the scene.

"We've heard from many young people that 13 Reasons Why encouraged them to start conversations about difficult issues like depression and suicide and get help — often for the first time," Netflix said in a statement Tuesday. "As we prepare to launch season three later this summer, we've been mindful about the ongoing debate around the show. So on the advice of medical experts, including Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, we've decided with creator Brian Yorkey and the producers to edit the scene in which Hannah takes her own life from season one."

The original, nearly three-minute-long scene — which is no longer available on Netflix — aired midway through the season one finale. It depicted breakout star Katherine Langford's Hannah assessing her life in the mirror before she is depicted sitting in a bathtub, tear on her cheek, taking a razor blade to her left wrist and piercing the skin. The camera then holds on the character as she shrieks in pain as blood gushes from an increasingly long cut that extends nearly up to her elbow. Hannah is then seen gasping for air as her breathing ultimately slows and bloodstained water tips out of the tub. Not long after, Hannah's mother (Kate Walsh) discovers her daughter's lifeless body in the blood-filled tub. Male lead Dylan Minnette provides voiceover during the entire scene as he tells the school's guidance counselor (played by Derek Luke) precisely what happened to Hannah. The episode opened with a warning to viewers that the installment "may not be suitable for younger audiences" and included "graphic depictions of violence and suicide."

The new scene, which has been updated on the Netflix site, features Hannah looking at herself in the mirror before cutting to her parents' reaction to her suicide. There is no longer any depiction of the character taking a razor blade to her wrists and the immediate aftermath. Sources say Netflix will also monitor and issue take-downs for any pirated clips that feature the original, unedited scene.

Sources note that the decision has nothing to do with the content included in the upcoming third season, which will not feature another scene depicting a suicide. Insiders familiar with the viewing patterns of 13 Reasons Why stress that each season attracts new and returning audiences to the series who ahead of season three would have been exposed to the unedited scene. That, along with conversations with experts, helped inform Netflix's decision to alter the footage. The new clip is designed to carry the same emotional impact of Hannah's death, though it does make Walsh's reaction that much more important.

"It was our hope, in making 13 Reasons Why into a television show, to tell a story that would help young viewers feel seen and heard and encourage empathy in all who viewed it, much as the best-selling book did before us," Yorkey, who also serves as showrunner, said in a statement Tuesday. "Our creative intent in portraying the ugly, painful reality of suicide in such graphic detail in season one was to tell the truth about the horror of such an act and make sure no one would ever wish to emulate it. But as we ready to launch season three, we have heard concerns about the scene from Dr. Christine Moutier at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and others, and have agreed with Netflix to re-edit it. No one scene is more important than the life of the show and its message that we must take better care of each other. 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."

The move has drawn support from the American Association of Suicidology, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the American School Counselor Association, Dr. Helen Hsu of Stanford University, advocacy group Mental Health America, the Trevor Project and Dr. Rebecca Hedrick of Cedars-Sinai. The latter, an adviser on the series, teamed with Yorkey for a Hollywood Reporter guest column last year in which they refuted studies linking the Netflix hit to an increase in suicide. "The show's positive impact has been observed in numerous independent pieces of research," they wrote in response to a new round of studies.

The above organizations teamed for a joint statement backing Netflix's edit. "We support the decision to edit the scene in which Hannah takes her own life from 13 Reasons Why. There has been much debate about the series in the medical community. But 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."

13 Reasons Why, from Paramount Television and based on the young adult novel of the same name by Jay Asher, was met almost immediately after its March 31, 2017, debut with equal parts backlash and praise for raising awareness about teen suicide. Hollywood Reporter chief TV critic Daniel Fienberg said in his season one review that the series, produced by Tom McCarthy and Selena Gomez, is "an honorably mature piece of young-adult adaptation" that "tackles its touchy subject in a thoughtful and interesting way."

Yorkey — who landed an overall deal with Paramount TV following the show's breakout success — told THR ahead of the premiere that the show's graphic suicide scene was done specifically. "We felt like it would be too easy for us to make her suicide look glamorous and peaceful," he said. "It also would have been too easy to see her thinking about it and let the camera drift off. We wanted to confront the fact that suicide is messy, ugly, and it's incredibly painful. There's nothing peaceful or beautiful about it at all. It's horrific to endure and it's horrific for the people that a person who commits suicide leaves behind. We wanted to tell that story truthfully. And as difficult as it is to watch, it should be difficult to watch. If we make it easy to watch, then we're selling goods that we didn't want to sell."

Season one also featured a 30-minute PSA — Beyond the Reasons — that streamed immediately after the finale and featured producers, including Gomez, alongside actors from the show and doctors, advocates and psychologists who consulted on the series informing viewers how to get help if they or someone they know is struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Mental health advocacy groups across the globe criticized 13 Reasons Why, claiming the series "exposes viewers to risky suicide content," prompting Netflix to establish a website allied with the series that lists crisis helplines in 35 countries in which the series airs. New Zealand added an adult rating to the series, while an Australian mental health group said it saw an increase in calls to local suicide helplines.

13 Reasons Why writer Nic Sheff responded to the criticism with a deeply personal guest column in which he defended the drama's decision to depict Hannah's suicide in detail and revealed how his own suicide attempt played into the show and why producers opted to feature the jarring scene. "It seemed to me the perfect opportunity to show what an actual suicide really looks like — to dispel the myth of the quiet drifting off, and to make viewers face the reality of what happens when you jump from a burning building into something much, much worse," he wrote.

In May 2017, a month after the show's debut, Netflix upped its trigger warnings for the series to include a warning card at the start of the show. (Season one featured three individual warnings for scenes that included a graphic rape and Hannah's suicide.) "There has been a tremendous amount of discussion about our series 13 Reasons Why. While many of our members find the show to be a valuable driver for starting important conversation with their families, we have also heard concern from those who feel the series should carry additional advisories. Currently the episodes that carry graphic content are identified as such, and the series overall carries a TV-MA rating. Moving forward, we will add an additional viewer warning card before the first episode as an extra precaution for those about to start the series and have also strengthened the messaging and resource language in the existing cards for episodes that contain graphic subject matter, including the URL — a global resource center that provides information about professional organizations that support help around the serious matters addressed in the show," Netflix said in a May 2017 statement.

Two weeks later, as a Colorado community mourned the loss of seven students who killed themselves, a school district official ordered librarians to temporarily stop circulating Asher's book. (The book was briefly pulled from shelves amid claims of censorship.) School administrators across the U.S. warned that the series sensationalized suicide and did not provide a good road map for individuals struggling with mental illness. There was no evidence that the Colorado suicides were inspired by the Netflix series or book.

In July 2017, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that the Netflix drama may have triggered suicide-related online searches. A San Diego State University researcher said 13 Reasons Why could trigger troubled teens and that the producers should remove and edit the episodes to focus on suicide prevention. Netflix responded to the study with a statement noting that the streamer "always believed this show would increase discussion around this tough subject matter. This is an interesting quasi experimental study that confirms this. We are looking forward to more research and taking everything we learn to heart as we prepare for season two."

Ahead of season two, Netflix commissioned a global research study with Northwestern University's Center on Media and Human Development. The study, which explored how teens and parents responded to 13 Reasons Why and included interviews with more than 5,000 teens and parents in five countries, found that a majority of the teens said they related to the characters and felt that the series was an authentic depiction of high school life. A range of 63 percent to 74 percent felt that the intensity of the show was appropriate, and 63 percent to 79 percent felt that the graphic nature of Hannah's death was necessary to show how painful suicide is. Overall, the study found that the show “opened their eyes” about how people their age may be affected by depression. (Complete results can be viewed here.) As a result, Netflix added a custom introduction ahead of each season and a special aftershow following its sophomore run. Not long afterward, the conservative watchdog group Parents Television Council asked Netflix to hold off on releasing season two until experts in the scientific community "determined it to be safe for consumption" for an audience comprised mostly of minors. Netflix released the unexpected second season — which stretched the narrative beyond Asher's source material — as scheduled on May 18, 2018.

13 Reasons Why becomes the latest Netflix original to have a controversial scene edited out. The streamer in March of this year — after a backlash — also removed and replaced a sequence in Sandra Bullock feature Bird Box that originally included real-life footage of a Canadian train rail disaster that resulted in the deaths of 47 people.