[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from the first season of “13 Reasons Why.”]
The teen drama “13 Reasons Why” sparked plenty of controversy when Netflix released it in March, but the Hollywood Foreign Press Association saw fit to give it a nod on Monday. It’s a show that’s all but been forgotten and didn’t really show up on many critical prediction lists. Although the series overall didn’t get recognition, its star Katherine Langford snagged the nomination in the Best Actress in a Drama Series category.
“Words cannot express my sheer excitement and gratitude for being nominated by the HFPA this morning for portraying ‘Hannah Baker,’ a young woman whom I have come to truly love and understand,” Langford said in a statement. “Hannah’s story resonated with so many people, and I feel truly grateful to Netflix, Paramount TV, Brian Yorkey, Tom McCarthy, Selena Gomez, and all of our tremendous producers…and to our incredibly talented cast – who are also my dear friends, and our wonderful crew for bringing this story to life. Most of all, my sincere hope is that the recognition continues to shine a light on so many of the important life issues and struggles we portray in ’13 Reasons Why.’ I’m forever grateful to have been given this opportunity and will continue to work hard to bring dignity, respect and grace to such a powerful character.”
In “13 Reasons Why,” based on the popular Young Adult novel by Jay Asher, teenager Hannah Baker (Langford) killed herself and then left a series of audio cassette tapes that list the various people who she claims contributed to her suicide. Each tape is dedicated to one person, and the series builds tension as each new name is uncovered.
Some fans appreciated the series for shining a light on the levels of bullying and pressure in the lives of young people today, especially with the prevalence of social media. It’s also been praised for starting a conversation between peers, family members, and in school about teen suicide.
Certainly Langford’s task was a daunting one. Every episode hinged on the Australian actress, whether it was Hannah’s wry voice on the tapes explaining her point of view or performing in the flashback scenes in which Hannah bounces back and forth from elated and hurt, to depressed and desperate. The most harrowing scene occurs when Hannah actually kills herself, slitting her wrists in a full bathtub. The scene never flinches away from her actions and follows it through to the point of her parents discovering her.
It’s scenes like these, in addition to the elaborate mystery conceit, however, that have been the receiving end of criticism for what some see as glorifying teen suicide. The literal life-and-death stakes and high school drama made “13 Reasons Why” one of the most-binged series of the year on Netflix. In death, Hannah received far more attention than in life, and as IndieWire pointed out earlier, media depictions of suicide often result in a spike in suicide rates. In the case of “13 Reasons Why,” its influence is inconclusive. While some may point to an increase in suicide attempts, that might also have accompanied a spike in people seeking out help.
How to deal with depictions of suicide on the screen, especially in young people, remains an ongoing conversation. The season finale ended on the suicide attempt of one of Hannah’s peers, and since the series has been renewed for a second season already, how this new installment plays out will add to the conversation.
Controversy aside, Langford breaking into the coveted list of nominees is a surprising one, although not entirely out of character for the HFPA, which likes to recognize newcomers. In this way, they were able to honor her standout performance despite the more problematic storytelling. She joins “Outlander’s” Caitriona Balfe, Her Majesty Claire Foy on “The Crown,” Maggie Gyllenhaal on HBO’s “The Deuce,” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” star Elisabeth Moss. That means Langford also beat out fan-favorite choices like Winona Ryder on “Stranger Things” and critical darling Carrie Coon for the final season of “The Leftovers.”
The 75th Golden Globe Awards, hosted by Seth Meyers, will air on Sunday, Jan. 7 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.