13 Reasons Why | British Board of Film Classification
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13 Reasons Why

Tags: drama

What is the series about and where is it shown?

13 Reasons Why is a Netflix Original series. It is an adaptation of the best-selling young adult fiction title by Jay Asher. Made in the US, 13 Reasons Why debuted in the UK on Netflix in March 2017.

The work tracks a school and its local community, in the wake of the deaths of two pupils, one of whom took her own life. It focusses particularly on the friends, and in some cases enemies, of one student, Hannah, who before taking her own life recorded a series of cassette tapes designed to highlight people whose actions she felt contributed to her unhappiness and death.

What are the classification issues in the series?

As the story develops, it covers several strong themes and issues. There is an emphasis on suicide, but also discussion and sight of self-harm, explorations of depression and other mental health issues, drug misuse, strong scenes of sexual assault, plotlines around the sexualisation of teenagers, especially girls, by other teenagers, bullying, and under-age drinking.

The portrayal of suicide, including the focus on the character's motivations and the aftermath of her death includes strong bloody detail and strong injury detail.

Is the BBFC particularly concerned about such themes?

Sexual violence and dangerous imitable behaviour, including portrayals of suicide and self-harm, are flagged in the BBFC's Classification Guidelines. The Guidelines aim to reflect public opinion via our regular public consultations, research and UK law.

We operate a strict policy when it comes to depictions of these issues. We consider the any novel information or techniques; the appeal of the work; the presentation, intensity and treatment of the issues; and any potential legal issues, such as the risk of harm to young or vulnerable viewers.

There is more information about our public consultations here, including information about the research methods, and detail of the opinions of parents and teenagers.

How did the BBFC classify the episodes? Why are some 18 and some 15?

The series was submitted under the BBFC's 'Watch & Rate' service for online only content.

BBFC compliance staff viewed each episode, considering the content in line with the BBFC Classification Guidelines.

The BBFC has a statutory duty to classify video released on physical media such as DVD and Blu-ray in the UK. Though Video on Demand platforms do not need to submit their content for BBFC classification by law, many, including Netflix, do. The BBFC uses the same Classification Guidelines and age ratings (U, PG, 12, 15, 18) for Video On Demand content as it does for physical media.

The BBFC classified most of the episodes with a 15 age rating, which means we do not consider these episodes suitable for viewers under the age of 15. Four episodes, however, received an 18 age rating.

Why weren't the scenes cut? Were they considered potentially harmful?

As is often the case with films or series with unusual or borderline issues, the senior tier of classification staff, the BBFC's Board of Classification comprising of the BBFC's CEO, President and two Vice Presidents, considered the key suicide scene. They considered previous examples where the BBFC required cuts for an 18 age rating, including those which romanticise suicide or suggest techniques are easy, pain free, or particularly effective.

The Board of Classification passed the episodes containing the long suicide scenes 18, signalling the content is only suitable for adult viewing.

In a statement to the media the BBFC clarified the seriousness with which we consider potentially harmful or disturbing issues like suicide in films and series, highlighting our work with charities and experts in relevant fields:

'The BBFC regularly consults with experts, including Samaritans, to help ensure that our classification policies and decisions in relation to challenging content are aligned with expert advice'.

After careful consideration, the BBFC classified 13 Reasons Why 18 meaning that we do not consider the series as a whole to be suitable for those who are not adults.'

Scenes of strong sexual violence in these episodes, including one in which a teenager rapes another whilst she is unconscious, also took the episodes to 18.                                                                                                              

Were there warnings for viewers about the scenes?

BBFCinsight provides concise explanations for why each episode, and the series as a whole, received particular BBFC age ratings.

Several episodes included warning text onscreen noting the sexual assault, suicide, and violence in these episodes. Before Episode 1, for example, a warning told anyone affected by the content they were encouraged to get in touch with the charity Samaritans:

'We would encourage any viewers or readers who have been affected by the content of this story to get in touch with Samaritans, who can listen and offer confidential support 24/7. You can call Samaritans free of charge on 116123, or find the details for your local branch at www.samaritans.org. Calls to Samaritans' helpline do not show up on phone bills.'

A later submission of 13 Reasons Why series one was re-edited to include a suicide prevention video at the start of the episodes, along with some warnings.

Additional information:

The BBFC classified an additional work, 13 Reasons Why: Beyond The Reasons, produced by Netflix to accompany the series, giving it a 15 age rating. It included discussion of the character, Hannah, who takes her life, and brief visual images of the aftermath of her suicide, but these were contained in a documentary that had a clear and resolute anti-suicide message.

13 Reasons Why was the most tweeted about TV show of 2017, but also generated criticism and commentary from the media, governments, celebrities and academics.

The second series continues on from series one, following the same characters and continuing to explore themes such as bullying, sexual violence and suicide.

BBFC Compliance Officers recommended 15 for most of the individual episodes, noting that they include strong issues, such as discussion of sexual violence, drug misuse, and suicide and sex references, which are unsuitable for younger teens. We classified three stronger episodes, which included strong scenes of sexual violence, 18.

In July 2019, ahead of the release of series 3 of the show, Netflix removed some material from the suicide depiction in series 1 which had prompted controversy and debate. The streaming service said the scene had been re-edited following advice from experts. Netflix also noted they had been contacted by younger audience members saying the show had prompted discussions about difficult themes.

In August 2019 the BBFC classified Series 3 of the Netflix show. The series is not as strong as the previous two series which both contain 18 rated episodes. While there are some ‘flashback’ scenes of sexual violence from the first two series, these are containable at 15 in this context. This series is rated 15 for strong violence, injury detail, sex, sexual violence, language, drug misuse.