At Saturday’s MTV Movie and TV Awards, “13 Reasons Why” star Alisha Boe said the sexual assault case against former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner shaped her performance as a rape survivor pursuing justice against her rapist.
“The Brock Turner case was my bible and what I drew a lot of inspiration from,” Boe told Variety on the red carpet. “Brock Turner walked away with a slap on the wrist, and he got three months, famously, so we just really wanted to shed some light on the reality of what it’s like for a [rape survivor] to go against her attacker.”
A major plot line in the show’s sophomore season follows Boe’s character, Jessica Davis, as she struggles to confront her assailant, Bryce Walker, culminating in a court case that parallels the heavily publicized Turner case. Like Turner, Bryce is a star athlete who receives three months’ legal punishment for sexually penetrating his unconscious victim.
“People were upset when they watched it, but unfortunately that’s reality,” Boe said. “What the show doesn’t shy away from is telling the truth in a heartbreaking way, and they’re supposed to be pissed off.”
Justin Prentice, who plays Bryce, added that certain privileges possessed by males like Turner also informed his character’s arc.
“Jocks, athletes get off easily, especially if you’re a straight white male from a wealthy family,” Prentice said. “Unfortunately that’s how reality plays out nowadays, so our show tries to showcase things as realistically as possible, and as much as it sucks that incidence is very realistic.”
Another controversial plot line introduced in the series’ second season centered on an attempted school shooting by bullied teen Tyler Down, who is the victim of a gang rape scene in the series finale. After canceling its premiere in the wake of the recent school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, the show has received backlash for the gun violence narrative, as well as for its graphic depiction of Tyler’s rape sequence. The cast addressed the controversy at the award show.
“We wanted to show what would … make a person want to do something like that, and I feel like it’s happening so much in America that it’s absolutely disgusting,” Boe said. “Not even after like the fifth [school shooting] we haven’t implemented change, and it’s like enough is enough. ’13 Reasons Why’ is a form of entertainment that likes to shed light on political issues, and we wanted to show something from the first perspective, but I think it was incredibly important because that’s what’s happening in America, and we need to talk about it.”
Timothy Granaderos, who plays one of Tyler’s rapists, defended the decision to show sexual violence onscreen while acknowledging the validity of skeptics’ concerns.
“I completely understand it, to be honest,” Granaderos said. “It’s a very sensitive subject matter, but the way we look at it, it’s something that needs to be talked about. Male-to-male sexual harassment, I think, happens more than we realize, so it’s hard to watch, and it should be. But I understand if people want to look away.”