13 Reasons Why dealt with a lot of heavy subject material and content. Fans of the series, who had read the books, anticipated this and there were warnings posted prior to episodes. In the months leading up to the series premiere on Netflix, it was spoken about in interviews as well – but seeing it is always different than reading about it. Some people felt that the episodes were too graphic and depicted too much, others thought it was necessary to portray the loneliness and the despair that the characters went through in their own ways.
One scene, in particular, was extremely hard to watch. Hannah is sexually assaulted and it’s the true moment where the light in her eyes fades. Sexual assault is nothing new, nor are the moments or years that happen directly after. The victim feels terrified, on multiple levels. First, they’re afraid of life after assault. Second, they’re afraid to talk about it. Third, they’re afraid that they’re responsible, and the list goes on from there. However, in the media recently, sexual assault cases made victims even more afraid to come forward when they’re assaulted.
For this episode, the story that needed to be told was a real one, and they didn’t want to hide it. They did, however, want to make sure Katherine Langford was as comfortable as she could be, with the subject matter, and that a woman was able to be there for her through the moments leading up to filming, and the scene itself.
Brian Yorkey said that they felt really strongly about a woman directing the episode. ‘We felt really strongly that we wanted to have a woman direct the episode, for a few reasons. We wanted Katherine to be very comfortable with what it was she had to do and we felt it would be helpful for another woman to be guiding her through it. We also wanted a woman because a great deal of the show is Hannah being seen through the male gaze. It was very important to us for Hannah to be led by a woman.’
Katherine spoke about the episode and how she felt privileged to work with Jessica Yu through the experience. ‘It was a real privilege working with Jessica Yu, particularly on that episode, because she brought such a smart and such a thoughtful approach to it. I think, as a woman, she was able to talk to me in a way maybe that I could understand on a deeper or more personal level. I felt so looked after.‘
She went on to say that she was appreciative of the way Jessica Yu handled the scene, how much thought she gave to even the small details. ‘I remember her talking about how we were going to shoot it and how different angles could make it look sexual, which is another problem: So much porn is based on rape fantasy. And so for her, shooting it was about not making it look like sex but more a physical action.’
Knowing how much thought went into these hard to watch scenes makes us appreciate the cast and crew of the show even more. There’s a level of responsibility and concern that they possess and it shows.
‘…but I knew him’