The Netflix show star explains why 13 Reasons Why continues push the boundaries in its depiction of dark teenage storylines.
Attention-seeking teenage drama is not a new thing. But right now, perhaps more than ever, teen shows depict some extremely triggering scenarios.
New HBO series Euphoria recently upped the ante with headline grabbing scenes of drugs, sex and One Direction fanfiction. But perhaps the most controversial storyline of recent times remains that of 13 Reasons Why, which featured a suicide scene in its first series.
“The controversy will always follow the show because we cover a controversial topic,” says Alisha Boe, who’s played Jessica Davis in the Netflix drama since its debut in 2017.
“The setting is in a high school with 16-18 year olds, [which makes it] very uncomfortable and hard to watch.
“You kind of don’t want to know people that young go through any of that stuff - the struggles - or have to go through those very traumatic experiences, especially with parents watching it.”
Boe, who cut her teeth on the show that returns to Netflix on 23 August, tells Stylist “it exploded beyond our expectations.”
13 Reasons Why’s first series, which premiered in March 2017, centred on a box of cassette tapes recorded by teenage schoolgirl Hannah Baker, played by Katherine Langford. Each episode focused on a different tape, and explored different issues the young girl struggled with before her suicide - which was aired in the final episode, number 13.
Following much debate about the graphic depiction of a sensitive issue, Netflix removed series one’s suicide scene from its platform last month. The final episode from the first series now shows Hannah looking at herself in the mirror before the scene switches to her parents’ reaction.
Boe’s character Jessica Davis has also had her fair share of tough times. The Liberty High schoolgirl is raped by a friend of her boyfriend as she sleeps during series one, and the show depicts her raw, emotional struggle dealing with being a victim of sexual assault and a court case that ensues. Could the third and final series see everything go right for Jessica? “I don’t know the ending yet,” Boe says. “I just hope that I get the ending… that Jessica ends on a positive note, but we shall see, we shall see.”
Gritty storylines are exactly what fans of 13 Reasons Why have come to expect and love about the show. But that doesn’t always make for easy viewing.
“It’s different than watching something set in a fantasy world where you can take yourself out of it,” Boe explains. “But when you put it in a realistic setting that you can easily relate to, it becomes a little terrifying which I completely understand.”
As for the controversial aspects of the show, Boe says it has opened up important conversations between teenagers and their parents. It has also opened the actor up to critics herself. But Boe says she feels ‘lucky’ that she is confident enough to take on internet trolls.
“Once you cross that point of being the kind of person that writes mean comments on someone’s photo, I probably don’t value your opinions because a. you’re a stranger and b. who takes the time for hate.”
It’s empowering to hear Boe speaking with such gusto. Has she always been so strong willed? “Yeah I guess,” she replies. “I mean, I don’t know, but I know that I’ve always been a person with very strong opinions and very independent.
“I was my mom’s nightmare when I was a teenager. I like always thought I was right. It’s a learning curve. We’re all like that at that age, there are periods of time where we feel very insecure and I it’s think through those times of feeling insecure that we learn how to love ourselves and how to feel confident.
“You can’t have the really great without the bad, so I think I’ve just learnt throughout my life that… how to be… you know, it is important to have your own thoughts and feelings and pay the people no mind who have nothing but negative things to say.”
And not everyone is down on 13 Reasons Why and the show’s decision to depict teen drama, warts and all. At a nail salon in the US last week, Boe spoke to a mother who watched the show with her children.
“She had watched [13 Reasons Why] with her 15-year-old and her 16-year-old, and because of that, she had the link with which to be able to talk to her kids about what they were actually feeling,” says Boe. “The son was the one who was like ‘Mom, I want to watch this with you’. That’s all we want at the end of the day and we welcome criticism and any compliments of the show.
“It’s only a right, you know. It’s art and anyone should be able to comment on it.”
13 Reasons Why returns on 23rd August on Netflix.
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