’13 Reasons Why’ Season 3 Has a Problematic New Character

If you are the parent of anyone over the age of 11 years-old, chances are you are well aware of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why (stylized for television as TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY). This melodrama debuted in 2017, produced by former teen star Selena Gomez and based on the book by Jay Asher. The initial story dealt with the suicide of one of the main characters and the television series sparked a lot of conversation revolving around the way suicide was depicted. After the first season, the very heavy topic of teen suicide has been replaced by the very heavy topic of rape, becoming the focus for both second and third season. This article has significant spoiler details, so let this be your spoiler alert to not read further if you haven’t already watched the third season yet. If you have watched it, your comment is encouraged.

New character Amorowat Anysia “Ani” Achola played by Grace Saif (center) flanked by series regulars Dylan Minnette , Brandon Flynn and Ross Butler.

New Character Awkwardly Inserted

So, if you have stayed with this dramatic series to the third season, you most likely have grown a fondness, or at least familiarity, with the story’s main characters led by main character Clay Jensen, played by Dylan Minnette. Minnette returns for season 3, looking painfully concerned as usual and joined by other cast regulars including Christian Navarro as Tony Padilla, Alisha Boe as Jessica Davis, Brandon Flynn as Justin Foley, Miles Heizer as Alex Standall, Ross Butler as Zach Dempsey, Justin Prentice as Bryce Walker and Devin Druid as Tyler Down. Notably absent, or at least not as prominent as in past seasons are Michele Selene Ang as Courtney Crimsen, a prominent character in the first two seasons and Ajiona Alexus as Sheri Holland who was prominent in season two. Only Ang is seen briefly in a few scenes while we don’t see Alexus at all. But, a new character was introduced this third season, practically becoming the protagonist of the show, leaving many of us baffled and confused.

The new character, Ani, played by newcomer Grace Saif, doesn’t enter with any introduction. She opens as narrator and is prominently placed front and center, a new girl who has been in town for eight months. She is familiar with each character, speaks cryptically about the unraveling mystery and suspiciously references past happenings as if she was present when they took place. What is most unclear and never really becomes clear is how she is able to speak with familiarity regarding the town’s secrets regarding Bryce Wilson and his tendency to behave as a serial rapist. It is weird that she knows so much about his history because she never behaves as if it makes a difference when she interacts with him.

Ani is actively engaged in humanizing Bryce throughout the show. She questions the other characters about their suspicious ways and possible motives to want to see serial rapist and bullying Bryce Walker killed. She engages in sexual activity with said serial rapist and plays endless mind games with Clay Jensen who is as hopelessly smitten with her as he was with Hannah Baker. Ani is contradictory, confusingly involved in a mystery that has nothing to do with her and loyal to a group of people through the most contrived explanation possible.

Ani became the person to voice the conflated idea that there are two sides to every story.

Bryce Walker Didn’t Need an Advocate

Ani became the person to voice the conflated idea that there are two sides to every story. She was presented to show that, yes, Bryce Walker is a wealthy white male who believed he was entitled to do whatever he wanted to anyone he wanted, yet, somewhere, deep, deep, deep, down inside, he could be loving and respectful of the teen-aged daughter living in his house with the nurse paid to take care of his grandfather. She was intelligent in every way, we were told (in one scene, the teacher remarks she did not need the review for an upcoming test due to her progress in class), but, somehow, her intelligence was not matched with empathy or consideration for her so-called friends who she casually betrayed regularly with her trysts with Bryce even after knowing that he was responsible for raping her new so-called best friend, Jessica Davis.

Ani’s disruptive presence was amplified for me because she was a Black character. It was very disturbing for me to see these contradictions portrayed as a Black person when the other Black characters (other than bi-racial Alisha Doe) in the show had been written off or seen in very small doses (Derik Luke as counselor Kevin Porter made a brief appearance in a confusing capacity which was very odd given that he was fired in the previous season). It made me uncomfortable seeing a young Black girl engage in a sexual relationship with a character who is a rapist, rallying behind him and his questionable humanity, lying to her mother to spend time with him, lying to her friends to spend time with him, and behaving consistently untrustworthy, irrational and suspiciously. With the current culture of rape survivors speaking up and out, with films like the recent Surviving R. Kelly documentary breaking the silence on the exploitation and violence against young Black girls, and push-back against society’s tendency to over-sexualize Black women and romanticize historically predatory relationships (i.e. slavery tropes, Venus Hottentot, etc.), this casting choice seemed like a step backward. Honestly, however, I think the character, even if she was cast with a white actress, is a step backward in storytelling. Ani’s contrived presence is a distasteful example of how we don’t need apologists for rapists– whether through our fictional storytelling or in real life. If the series continues life with a fourth season, here’s hoping they do a better job with depicting challenging topics in a way that does not devolve into disappointing apologist tropes.

How to Watch ‘When They See Us’ with Your Children

On June 12, Oprah sat down with When They See Us director Ava Duvernay, the show’s cast, and the real men tagged by the media as “the Central Park Five” for an engaging interview– Oprah Winfrey Presents: When They See Us Now— that included conversation around the making of the show and the experiences of the actors and the real men.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 09: ≈ look on at the Netflix “When They See Us” FYSEE Event at Raleigh Studios on June 09, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Netflix)

I am watching Oprah’s special now as I write this and I appreciate that Ava and Oprah assert from the beginning that the men are not the “Central Park 5” but, the “Exonerated 5”. Each actor spoke with deep compassion and care about each of the men they portrayed and how the experience of bringing the story to the screen changed their lives. The Netflix series strongly impacted me as well, so much so that I did not watch it in a linear fashion or all at once. Overwhelming, emotionally searing and painful, I had to watch it in segments. And, because of my experience, I offer these recommendations for people to watch with your children or if assigning this as a viewing experience for your children.

  1. Watch each episode slowly if necessary.
Scene from “When They See Us” found on IndieWire.com

When I say watch each episode slowly, I mean pause it if you need to. Watch a few minutes and come back to it another day if you need to. Talk about it or think about it before pushing the play button again. Whatever you need to do, do it, for, this film is emotionally taxing, particularly if you are strongly empathetic, have a personal experience that is similar or have a strong identification with the state of (in)justice in this country. I am all of the above and left the living room after fifteen minutes of watching. I cried that evening and a little the next day. Ava Duvernay’s beautiful direction and cinematography made the story’s horror palpable and humanized the story in unexpected ways.

2. Check in with your children and ask how they are doing.

Scene from the movie WHEN THEY SEE US

My daughter and her father continued to watch the series’ first episode when I had retired to bed fifteen minutes in. The next morning, I checked in with my daughter to see how she was doing and what her thoughts were of the movie. My daughter is a 15 year-old homeschooler who has taken college courses in critiquing film and pop culture and her initial response lingered on the technical aspects of the film from writing, acting and directing. She then began to ask questions and we researched some of the things published about the case. We discussed the role that Donald Trump played in marking the young men as criminals and creating a narrative that he stands by and does not apologize for. Checking in with your child(ren) lets you gauge how they are processing the information and let’s you know what context you needs to give to make it more understandable for them.

3. Check out some of the perspectives via social media

I recommend going on Twitter to see some of the conversation that the series has sparked. Some of the perspective gives context to things you may have questions on and some of the comments give backstory on some of the people involved in the case, including the prosecutors and detectives. My daughter chose to see what people were saying about the series and learned that the lead detective on the case had gone into publishing and was the inspiration behind one of my daughter’s favorite shows, Law and Order. That knowledge led us to have a conversation about how we consider people within and outside of the media microscope.

In closing, I think the series, while an artistic rendering of a very real and sensational story, is a valuable tool for teaching children about the injustice of America’s legal system. I think it also teaches about the power of media lynching and how vulnerable Black people are within the justice system, particularly when poor, uninformed about their rights and when targeted by those with authority.

Did you watch the series? What were your thoughts? Leave in the comment section below.

Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is a homeschooling mother, a multi-media strategist and professional creative who has built an expansive interdisciplinary career as a professional in higher education, media, student development and the arts.  You can join her mailing list and register for her courses for homeschooling families at StudentMediaOnline.com

Join the Facebook group for Dual-Enrolled Homeschooled High School Students here