Actress Kate Walsh has come out in defense of producers of the hit Netflix series 13 Reasons Why after they were slammed for graphically depicting the suicide at the heart of the show.
Since it dropped on March 31, the show has been plagued with public controversy, with many viewers and critics saying the show glorifies suicide and may cause viewers harm.
Australian youth mental health organisation headspace has even reported a “steady stream” of calls and emails from concerned parents and teens about the “risky suicide content”. They also stressed that national and international research indicates the “very real impact and risk to harmful suicide exposure leading to increased risk and possible suicide contagion.”
However, 13 Reasons Why’s Kate says the show was aiming to depict the dangers and heartache of suicide in a realistic way – not glorify it. “It was very important for everyone involved to take this very seriously and very accurately,” says the 58-year-old actress.
Kate plays the grieving mother of 17-year-old Hannah (Aussie actress Katherine Langford), who commits suicide after recording 13 tapes sent to each of the people she blames.
“(Creator) Brian Yorkey was adamant there was nothing romantic or nothing Goth or sexy about this suicide,” she adds. “We all knew that when we finally got to that scene, there wasn’t going to be anything beautiful about it. It’s supposed to make you uncomfortable.”
The actress, best known for the series Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, admits it was a difficult decision to take on the role but she spoke to parents who lost their son to suicide as well as a psychiatrist to be sure she got it right.
“The mother and father I spoke to were generous in allowing me to ask them questions because they’d made it their mission to help prevent this happening to anyone else and they wanted the show to get it right,” she explains.
“I tried as an actress but I just don’t think there is any way to truly convey that kind of loss and bereft quality that they would have suffered because it’s an unimaginable tragedy no parent should ever have to experience.”
Growing up in Tucson, Arizona, Kate admits she also suffered at the hands of bullies in high school.
“I had some good old-fashioned bullying and girls wanting to beat me up,” she recalls, “but I am the youngest of five kids, so I had to learn how to get tough at certain times in my life. I didn’t realise the extent of what social media has done to high school today and how people can destroy someone with a text or 140 characters, so I see how much more heightened it can be now.”
Kate is hopeful that the series will deeply touch everyone who watches.
“I think one of the beautiful things about this series - other than it being powerful and entertaining and obviously binge worthy - is that it will start a new dialogue; not just around suicide but if you keep watching, it also takes on gender equality issues, LGBT issues, sexual assault, rape and race,” she adds. “It’s a microcosm of exactly what is happening in the world and in many ways I feel like the world basically is high school.”