Dear Netflix

TRIGGER WARNING: SUICIDE, EATING DISORDERS

Dear Netflix,

Please stop making shows/ movies about mental illness willy-nilly. Coming from a girl with clinical depression and anxiety, your depictions never get it right. I’m a sucker for any entertainment, especially your notoriously binge-worthy shows, but your new affinity for “starting a conversation” and “bringing awareness” to such prominent issues is doing more harm than good.

Photo Credit: hollywoodreporter.com

First, let’s start with the insanely popular 13 Reasons Why, which follows the events that “led up” to junior Hannah Baker’s suicide. Back in May, when I watched the show, I felt disgust whenever it was brought up. I had watched it because I was so excited to see how a major platform, like Netflix, could start a trend of accurate representation of mental illness in the media. To my dismay, this show became another failure. I wrote a lot about this show in a previous blogpost, but I have a few things I forgot to mention. Besides being extremely triggering for those with suicidal ideations and/or depression, the show’s creators forgot to think about the very real consequences of putting out what they did. In the two weeks following the show’s release, searches relating to suicide, such as “how to commit suicide” or “how to kill yourself,” went up over 19%. To put it into different numbers, about 1.5 million more searches were made relating to suicide. Yes, these statistics aren’t exactly the show’s fault, but such a dramatic spike had to have some catalyst. Also, many teenagers and adults started performing “copycat” suicides or suicides that resembled that of Hannah Baker’s. For example, a 23 year old man committed suicide and left behind 13 audio recordings assigning blame to people he knew for their part in his suicide. You can’t possibly tell me that he didn’t have any persuasion from either the book or TV show. Since the show did not follow guidelines from the World Health Association, a very reputable expert of health in my opinion, on how to portray suicide in a healthy, non-triggering way, many people have faced grave fates on the creators’ behalves.

Moving on, Netflix most recently released a show, Atypical, about a senior in high school with autism. I, again, watched the entire season, very quickly I might add. Sam, the main character, navigates the new world of dating, which involves getting his first girlfriend. He and his girlfriend, Paige, have a sweet relationship, but it all ends when he admits his love for his therapist, Julia, in front of her entire family. Writer Matthew Rozsa writes about how grotesque this specific incident is, among the many others of show. “These aren’t classic signs of autism — they’re violent, creepy, cruel and make the autistic character seem like a monster. When the show then shifts gears to make us feel sorry for Sam, the characterization becomes more offensive. Arguing that those with neurological conditions shouldn’t be held accountable for hurting others is as patronizing as it is socially irresponsible,” he said. Sam even says that autistic people don’t lack empathy, which is very true even though many on the spectrum can’t physically or verbally express it, but some of his actions contradict that. The Olive Garden scene is an example of it, Sam, being as high functioning as he is, couldn’t realistically not see his wrongdoings, as shown by his overall awareness throughout other parts of the show.

Photo Credit: collider.com

The show also follows the lives of Sam’s family and how they have to accommodate him. This is one of the only things that is represented fairly and realistically, as an autism diagnosis doesn’t mean that loving, sarcastic, silly dynamics of family go away. However, this notion that autism is an issue that affects everything about a family’s dynamics is very harmful. Although I don’t have anyone in my family with autism or personally have autism myself, I know that living with this disability is tough. Not only is it hard to function in the world, the stigma that comes along with it is also extremely hard. That’s something this show forgets about. In trying to make an accurate representation of autism, the creators forget to get to the true depths of the disability. While writing this post, I had a long conversation with one of my friends about the show. While she doesn’t have autism herself, some of her family does. What the show misses is the fact that autism has a huge toll on the families it affects, but also the person. Actor Mickey Rowe tells of the gross misrepresentation of this notion. “Sam is a high school senior at a regular school, and he doesn’t use an assistant or paraeducator, so he’s largely independent. Yet his parents seem to hint that they haven’t been able to go on a date since he was born, implying that they’ve sacrificed their own lives to help him through his. What’s more, they talk about Sam as if they don’t have anything in common with him and at times appear to present their son’s autism as a tragedy,” he said. The show lacks the rough toll autism has on the individual, even though there are plenty of first-person accounts they could’ve included in it.

The show claims Sam is high-functioning, but his symptoms are all over the place. In a series of interviews with autistic viewers of Atypical done by The Mighty, Lamar Hardwick, who is on the spectrum himself, explains this perfectly. “There were parts of the episode where I felt some autistic traits Gilchrist [Sam’s actor] displayed were a bit too overstated. While the actor did a pretty good job overall, issues such as lack of eye contact and taking things literally started to feel like a caricature of autism. I’m not sure that an autistic person would always see themselves in that light,” he said. Although the show means well, it makes autism into an anecdote, focusing on common symptoms, to provide a goofy portrayal of Sam’s autism.

You’re left with a character who is kind of a jerk and has an overly-dramatic version of what autism really is. It’s even worse when you see how his family’s characters are much more developed and multi-faceted than his. Possibly the biggest fluke in this show is that none of the creators have autism or a family member with it. Instead, the screenwriter and executive producer, Robia Rashid, “had to do a lot of research.” Research doesn’t always lead to accurate findings, though. Sadly, this show missed the mark about how real autism really is.

Photo Credit: ew.com

Now, I may be coming off as extremely negative, but there is one show (well, movie actually) that I wanted to finish my letter with. That would be To The Bone. Again, this movie doesn’t get the eating disorder Anorexia Nervosa 100% correct. The main character, played by Lily Collins, is a young, privileged, white, and skinny girl who has divorced parents and extreme family issues. This movie had the opportunity to showcase a fat, unprivileged grown man or a person of color with the same disease to show that it doesn’t just affect those that look like Ellen, Lily Collin’s character. As far as eating disorders go, anorexia is very prominent in the media. There are so many movies and books talking about this disease. What I liked about this movie, especially compared to 13 Reasons Why and Atypical, is that the director and the main actress both have had anorexia. An article from Variety magazine describes Marti Noxon’s, the director, accurate portrayal of the disease as, “ [not an] especially pleasant movie to watch, but it is one that just might save a few lives.” What you get when you watch To The Bone isn’t some linear progression to recovery, but an extremely up-and-down diegesis that ultimately shows that recovery, something that is desperately needed when dealing with an eating disorder, is worth it in the end.

One thing I like to mention before I finish, can you tell me one thing these characters have in common? I hinted at it in the last paragraph. Still guessing? They’re all white! Not only is the media containing a complete lack of representation of mental illness, gender, sexuality, and people of color, but you never see a culmination between any of these themes. GLAAD does a very well-rounded data analysis of misrepresentation in media overall and I recommend you check it out. Netflix had a wonderful opportunity to create shows with directors and actors with these disabilites/diseases. They have all different kinds of actors willing to be a part of any media they create and while I applaud Netflix for their overall diversity, they still missed the mark when it came to these shows. The only people of color I remember in these shows are Ross Butler’s character in 13 Reasons Why and a fellow member in Ellen’s inpatient facility who happens to be black. The representation of these characters would’ve done way better in terms of conversation if they changed the way society traditionally sees these challenges. Make Hannah Baker a lesbian, Asian girl who has unforgiving parents. Make Sam black and underprivileged, not having the ability to hug his older sister. Make Ellen/ Eli an adopted, obese girl whose family couldn’t see her illness because they weren’t educated. Create new conversation by adding in REPRESENTATION. Youtuber Annie Elainey puts this into perspective perfectly.

I finish with a plead. While these movies and shows are indeed raising awareness, they have to deal with their subject matter delicately. Mental illnesses, eating disorders, and other disabilities affect too many people to be taken so lightly. What all these people need is a positive, accurate depiction of their lives. They don’t need uneducated producers and directors making stories that they can’t connect with. I love that Netflix is trying to help, but I suggest, like what To The Bone did, that the creators of these shows know what their subject matter is like. Research and conversations don’t even compare to those living with it. No amount of paper can match the grief of another hospital visit. In order to create something with truth, real experiences need to be showcased.

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Death Note to Whitewashing

In an interesting turn of events, Ed Skrein, who was originally set to star in Hellboy, backed out of his role this summer because of his character’s mixed-Asian decent. Now, I’m upset that not enough people are talking about this. Hollywood is known for casting white actors in place for roles that are for people of color. However, Ed Skrein is the only actor, that I’ve heard of at least, that has declined a role because of this reason.

This is big news because of how rare it is. We’ve seen actors and actresses with amazing, prolific careers ignore whitewashing and accept a role that a person of color deserves. Earlier this year, Scarlett Johansson played main character Major Mira Killian, adapted from the Japanese manga series Ghost in the Shell. The movie barely saw any profit, less than 70 million made in its entire box office career. Matt Damon starred in the Great Wall, a movie literally about a white man leading a gigantic Chinese army against monsters attacking the grand fortress. Most recently, Netflix released Death Note, starring Nat Wolff, another adaptation of a popular Japanese manga.

Talking about Death Note for a moment, back in 2015, when Nat Wolff was announced as the film’s lead, Light, there were obviously mixed responses. One came from up and coming actor, Edward Zo, who was denied the opportunity to even audition for the same role. Why? Because he was “too Asian.” Here is his story below:

Something he said really stuck with me. “Hey, your story is really cool. Everything about this story is awesome, except you,” he said, when explaining what whitewashing feels like. What directors are doing is taking away the authenticity of a story. You don’t see white actors playing slaves, it’s not their story to tell. Manga, a style of Japanese comics, is quintessentially Japanese. Not white. What you get are stories that stay with Japanese adults and kids alike. Why take that essential part away in the movie version?

Photo Credit: imdb.com

What I just talked about are just actors stealing roles from Asian, more specifically Japanese, actors. I could show hundreds of examples of Hollywood whitewashing. Some older movies even use blackface and yellowface instead of just hiring people of color. What all these movies have in common nowadays are their social media outcry based on their faulty casting. I hope that Skrein’s decision and the obvious negative effects it has on a movie’s reviews will deter Hollywood from whitewashing in the future.

TV Theories

Photo Credit: Wikipedia.com/Riverdale

SPOILER ALERT: Riverdale 

Fasten your seatbelt, because I’m about to speed into the different theories of one of my favorite tv shows ever, Riverdale.

Riverdale first aired on January 26th, 2017, and immediately after the first episode I was hooked. It didn’t take long to become obsessed with the mystery of who killed Jason Blossom. But while trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle that was his death, we followed many other characters on their crazy journeys through their sophomore year of high school or their parents that, in fact, were the main causes of the most extra drama that existed on this show.

Now I’m going to fast forward to the season 1 finale, and wow… that was a plot twist. While we did figure out Jason Blossom’s murderer was his own flesh and blood, Clifford Blossom, the writers decided to have one of the purest characters in the whole show shot.

FRED ANDREWS!!!!!

WHY???!!! I don’t know, but the ending of the episode had many angry, distraught Riverdale fans desperate to know who would do this to the nicest character in the whole show. Seriously, what has he done wrong? He’s the only parent in the whole show who hasn’t freaking manipulated their kid or messed them up psychologically. He’s supported his son’s music career (and come on, just because Archie is cute, it doesn’t mean we have to pretend his singing is that good). But he still supported him, and yet he’s the one kicked to the curb, and SHOT?! Not okay, writers, not okay.

Now I know there are lots of other mysteries that need to be solved in season 2. Who’s Cheryl’s unexpected love interest? Who’s Betty’s long lost brother? What’s Hiram doing back in Riverdale? Who’s Veronica’s ex, and how is he going to affect Varchie?

But that’s what I’m not here to talk about.

Who shot Fred Andrews? Who would WANT to kill Fred Andrews? Clearly someone had enough beef with him to attempt first degree murder. And how do we know it wasn’t just Mr. Andrews being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Well, no money was taken from the register at Pops, and who would go “rob” a restaurant without taking money? It wasn’t just an accident. It was pre-meditated.

Now onto theories. I’m writing this because I want to know who shot him. I have multiple.

Sheriff Keller. This theory is simple. As I was watching the season 2 premiere, I noticed the sheriff had the exact same eye color as the robber, and it was scary. The same bright, green eyes full of evil!!! If you look closely at the robber’s eyes, and then his, you’ll see it too. Also, it’s not just a coincidence that he sucks at doing his job. How are four sophomores able to solve Jason Blossom’s murder before the sheriff of the town? So far the case is going no where either, but maybe it’s because the guy in charge of the case is the shooter. Coincidence? I think not. Plus, he’s the last person anyone would suspect, and in this show you must always except the unexpected.

Even though the sheriff has the power to cover it all, and the eye color, one thing he doesn’t have is the motive. So, now I’m onto my second suspect, Hiram Lodge. Hiram Lodge’s eyes are brown, so he may have not been the shooter, but he has the motive, and the resources. He has the Southside Serpents working for him, and probably many other people who owe him favors and would do anything to stay on his good side. He also has a motive. Fred was having a fling with Hermione Lodge and he wanted to take over his construction site, what reason did Hiram Lodge have to not kill Fred Andrews?

Now I’ve been focusing only on Fred Andrews, but we all know someone else was killed in the season 2 premiere: Miss Grundy. The teacher we all loathe, but she was killed, and what do Miss Grundy and Fred Andrews have in common? Archie cares about them both. A lot. So, maybe the murderer has been targeting Archie, and everyone he cares about all along.

So, here’s my third and final theory on who could be the green eyed murderer hiding behind a ski mask because he’s too much of a wimp to show himself; Miss Grundy’s ex husband. The guy who scared Grundy so bad that she thought the only way to ever get away alive was by running off and changing her name. Maybe when he found out Archie and Grundy were having an affair together, he wanted revenge. He could be planning to make Archie’s life absolutely miserable by hurting everyone he cared about before taking him out himself at the end of season 2.

Case closed.

Photo Credit: Netflix

13 Reasons (Why?)

*WARNING: 13 Reasons Why spoilers*

About two weeks ago I sat down on my bed and opened Netflix. I kept scrolling and scrolling until, wait. I scrolled back up. In the Netflix Originals section there was a poster for 13 Reasons Why. I remember hearing so much hype for this show and seeing so many pictures from it. Not to mention, Selena Gomez, a producer for the show, raved about it on her Instagram a month ago. Almost impulsively I clicked play and listened to those first words, ringing through my ears.

“Hi, I’m Hannah Baker, live and in stereo.”

my dog eating a tangerine
Photo Credit: hollywoodreporter.com

I was instantly hooked and stayed that way until the last episode. However, by the time I was done, I was shaking and crying. No, it didn’t move me or inspire me to donate to suicide prevention lines. It gave me a panic attack. That’s the hook. The show slowly, mysteriously arises, making you want more. The end comes in flashes and ends with a bang.

Up until this point, I’ve loved most shows I’ve watched on Netflix. Stranger Things brought a retro spin on an eerie missing child’s case, and Netflix also revived some of my favorite shows from my childhood, like Degrassi and Bill Nye. However, 13 Reasons Why seems rushed and overly dramatic. They took Jay Asher’s book and made it a sloppy real-life version.

Obviously the show can’t be exactly like the book, explaining the various character changes, such as Sheri and Courtney, and depicting some timeline and technology differences. Of course, they had to spread out Clay listening to the tapes to supplement an entire season of episodes. It makes sense that they’d show different perspectives to create more depth and keep interest at bay. In 2007, when the book was originally published, social media wasn’t as popular as nowadays, which makes the technology advancement sensical.

That doesn’t explain why they changed Hannah’s suicide. When I saw her death scene, my stomach twisted into a pretzel, with a cold, hollow feeling. I started crying and hyperventilating. Yes, there was a warning at the beginning of the episode, but nothing could’ve prepared me for seeing her slit her wrists and bleed out in a bathtub. My full-body aching became worse when I found out that they changed it from Jay Asher’s original story. In the book, Clay simply mentions that “Hannah swallowed some pills.”

Some have said that this scene only makes the show more powerful. However, seeing something as graphic as that does more harm than good. In fact, Hannah’s suicide could be a risk factor for those on the edge. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states, “Exposure to another person’s suicide, or too graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide” could be an environment stressor that could trigger a suicide attempt. While it is given that there will be mentions of suicide, it isn’t publicized that a graphic suicide attempt is present in the show.

Many mental health professionals have spoken out about the negative affects of this show. Along with Hannah’s suicide attempt, the story itself glorifies suicide. The entire show is buzzing all around social media for its amazing cast and storyline, so it’s hard to detach it from all the talk, to talk about what it’s actually worth.

The entire premise is that a girl kills herself and blames it on other people, which is usually the opposite of what actually happens when someone takes their life. There is usually a feeling of helplessness and worthlessness, but suicide is (and always will be) the choice of a single individual. Viewers also miss the internal struggle that most people on the edge experience – the constant back and forth decision-making of whether or not they’ll commit.

Other less prominent issues are in play. Clay’s childhood friend, Skye Miller, tells him that suicide is for the weak and cutting is for those who are strong. Despite being grotesquely wrong, this glorifies self-harm, as a “strong” thing to do. Self harm is never a healthy, safe choice and can cause numerous health problems, besides leaving scars. The school’s health counselor’s, Kevin Porter,  lack of training is appalling. He doesn’t recognize obvious signs of Hannah’s suicidal thoughts and doesn’t report that she was sexually assaulted after he pressures her into giving out the name of her assailant, which she refuses to do out of fear. This scene will discourage many students to seek help in times of need, which could cause many lives to be lost.

Finally, Alex’s suspected suicide attempt is unnecessary and a cheap way to obtain a second season. He obviously exhibited signs of suicidal ideation, but this was uncalled for. The story has no mention of Alex killing himself and for a show that wants to honor the original story, this makes zero sense. My hope is that if they make a second season, they will be more aware of how to handle his suicide in a more appropriate (and less triggering) fashion.

For what its worth, this show does open up a dialogue about suicide awareness. While the information in this show isn’t all factual, it at least depicts suicide as a very real, very horrible thing. If you or someone you know is considering self-harm, please get help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

“A Series of Unfortunate Events”

Based on the horribly juxtaposed 13 book children’s series, Lemony Snicket’s A series of Unfortunate Events is back on the screen.

After an adaptation starring the ever bold and physical comedian Jim Carey, there was something missing – a certain element of discomfort that made your skin crawl. Long-time and new fans alike are excited to see the whimsical and dark series come to life in ways the movie didn’t.

Thanks to Netflix, 13 years after the movie, fans left wanting more are treated yet again to the world of the Baudelaire Orphans.

Photo Credit: Flickering Myth

Netflix is a growing empire, what with its ever-increasing show and movie collection complete with the little red Netflix stamp in the corner. But none of its other series’ are nearly as daring as Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Clocking in above The Crown as Netflix’s most expensive show to date, and aimed to appeal to every major viewing group, A Series of Unfortunate Events had to jump through all the hoops and stick the landing.

And stick the landing it has, masterfully translating a rich and vivid book series to the big screen.

With Daniel Handler (or better known to A Series of Unfortunate Events fans as none other than the Lemony Snicket) writing for the first two episodes detailing the first book, the show was off to a strong start.

The filming, dialogue and acting perfectly reflect the original material in ways that are often lost in book-to-screen translations. The actual visual and audio result is a style that is resonant with Wes Anderson’s later works like The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom and even Fantastic Mr. Fox, with vivid colors, sharp dialogue, specific score, and subtle etchings of humor in small, seemingly insignificant places that make all the difference.

Sticking pretty closely to the original books, the Netflix series has only upward to look. Having only covered four books of 13, and with the introduction of a secret organization only hinted at in the books, the show will undoubtedly grow in complexity and content as the series goes on.

Aubrie and Daisy

Every month, Netflix updates its movie collection, and ever since 2013, it has put out some new shows with each batch. Recently released was Audrie and Daisy, a documentary that caught my attention.

Released to Netflix on September 23rd, Audrie and Daisy tells the stories of two high school girls’ experiences with sexual assault.

The first girl, 16-year-old Audrie Pott, had gone to a high school party. She was black-out drunk when a group of three teenage boys sexually assaulted her. When she woke up the next morning, she was berated with hateful comments at school and online. It was only nine days later that she hung herself.

The second girl, Daisy Coleman, had a similar story. When she was fourteen, she and her best friend snuck out and went to a “party” in the basement of seventeen-year-old Matthew Barnett, grandson of a former state legislator. There, Coleman was pressured by Barnett and his friends to drink until she was in a coma-like state. When she was immobile and asleep, the boys continuously raped her for hours. She woke up frozen on her front lawn and was immediately rushed to the hospital. Even for almost 12 hours after, her blood alcohol level was a striking 0.1349 (the legal limit for Missouri adults is 0.08.) Immediately following her recovery, she was harassed online by kids at her school and even adults online.

When I heard their stories I was appalled by our society, even though these events happened nearly four years ago. I feel ashamed to live in a world where people who sexually assault others can walk away from a victim they just took something from, and not face any severe consequences. I feel ashamed to live in a society where victims are driven to suicide just so people will stop making their terrible memories even worse. I’m ashamed that grown adults join in on the childish gossiping and bullying.

News stories of these two rapes held a certain air to them. When Matthew Barnett was put on trial, the news anchors refused to say that Coleman had been raped. They would talk about how Barnett’s grandfather was a state legislator and how he would simply apologize to Coleman and be granted two years’ probation. He would walk free, while Coleman would always have to live with what he did to her. She would have to live with the constant criticism in her home town.

We should learn how to help victims of any crime, especially ones as sensitive as rape. We should learn to teach our children not to rape people. We should teach our children not to say things without thinking of the consequences.

Click here to read an interview with Daisy Coleman.

Breaking the Internet (Bias)

Photo Credit: http://www.marccx.com

Some adults nowadays blame technology for the current generation’s immaturity, saying that we’re obsessed or addicted to technology. Now, I’m not denying that we use quite a bit of technology, but I don’t understand how it is seen as so terrible. Kids now have an outlet that adults didn’t have; but that’s all technology is: an outlet. Kids aren’t obsessed with technology because they want to waste their lives in front of screens, but because those screens can make their lives better

TV shows allow children to escape their lives and fall into different ones. Whether it be a show about rich, teenage socialites or FBI agents solving crime, they can temporarily forget the next test or project. Children can take a break from the stresses society places on them and dive into this new fairy tale.

Music isn’t a way to defy adults and headphones aren’t a weapon of that defiance. Rap songs, however vulgar to certain listeners, can give a narrative to a child going through the worst. The same goes for a child who drowns out their inner demons with rock or metal. Pop songs aren’t these three-minute snippets of lifeless beats and strums, but rather anthems that give children something harmless to identify with.

And while social media has its own problems, these websites allow kids to find people who are experiencing the same struggles. It is amazing how many grief support groups there are online. Even though teenagers don’t always see who they’re communicating with, the advice given to them can help make a trying situation that much less difficult.

Finally, if it weren’t for adults, the Internet and all these “harmful” websites wouldn’t have even been created. Children aren’t the CEO’s of Netflix and YouTube and they shouldn’t be ridiculed for simply enjoying something.

(Read more positive effects here.