Alisha Boe On Jessica's Rape In '13 Reasons Why'
Since it first aired on March 31, 2017, "13 Reasons Why" is responsible for igniting worldwide conversations about teen suicide, depression, rape and sexual assault.
The Netflix hit, based on the book written by Jay Asher, follows the story of Hannah Baker's life through tapes she left behind after committing suicide.
The tapes are left to classmates Hannah felt drove her to the point of no return, and her harrowing story highlights many "taboo" issues millions of teenagers are faced with.
Specifically, the issues of sexual assault and rape.
Former Vice President Joe Biden was recently the keynote speaker at an It's On Us event and was joined by Alisha Boe, who plays Jessica Davis on "13 Reasons Why."
The It's On Us initiative, started by Barack Obama and Joe Biden, works to raise awareness to help put an end to sexual assault, and "13 Reasons Why" has partnered with the important campaign.
Elite Daily had the chance to speak with Alisha Boe and Joy Gorman, the executive producer of "13 Reasons Why," after the It's On Us event to discuss the role of rape culture in our society, the intersection between It's On Us and "13 Reasons Why" and the backlash Alisha's character, Jessica Davis, has faced by the public.
How did "13 Reasons Why" develop this partnership with the It's On Us campaign?
Joy: I was at the United State of Women Summit right around the second week of production and Joe Biden was the first speaker up and I heard Megan Yap speak and Joe, and I was so, so moved and I just felt like it was really important, knowing that our writers were shaping a storyline about sexual violence, to pursue a partnership with It's On Us. So I went to Brian Yorkey, the creator of our show and our fearless brilliant leader, and he just loved this idea. Right from, I think before the script phase… Brian would talk to Rebecca Kaplan or I would talk to Rebecca, we also brought in Alexis Jones, [who] really helped us with the development of the script, so it was a very intentional partnership in terms of not only wanting to bring more awareness to It's On Us, but to make sure that we as storytellers were really authentic and truthful and could honor rape survivors everywhere by how we portrayed a sexual violence storyline and that was really, really important to Brian.
Alisha, how did you prepare to play such an intense character like Jess?
Alisha: Joy and Brian and all of the executive producers made sure all of the cast had the right resources for the role they were playing. So I got to talk to a psychiatrist who specializes in sexual assault survivors and rape survivors along with Rebecca Kaplan from It's On Us. It didn't change my perception [of sexual assault], but more so gave me insight on what it's like to be a survivor. It was super helpful and I love the cause very much.
What's it been like reading the criticism of Jess's character online?
Alisha: It's been super interesting because I didn't expect it, because when we filmed the show... I thought everyone would sympathize with Jessica because of what she's been through, to me that made the most sense. She's a survivor and she's been trying to deal with it and she's acting out because of it. But what I realized when the show came out, I was getting comments and being tagged in photos and fan theories that I can't help but look at, but basically, people are slut-shaming Jessica. They're calling her a bitch and they're saying she deserved it that I should take Justin back and I shouldn't be that drunk at a party and it made me take a second and step back and realize, wow, we as a society are not able to not blame the rape survivor but more so we want to take Justin's side because he's charming and has a nice smile. And that makes me so hurt and angry and it makes me want to get more involved in being an advocate for women and men who are sexually assaulted and are survivors of rape because the conversation still hasn't changed. Joy: And if the kids on our show can be a voice for people who are suffering, then we've done our job. We're so lucky to have incredible actors like Alisha who are brave enough to dive into these character and try to live in the shoes of people who are sufferring and we hope that the power of our show is giving those people a voice.
What other types of fan reactions have you received?
Alisha: On top of just the backlash Jessica Davis has been getting, the positive side of that is I've been getting hundreds of messages and in-person fans have come up to me saying [things like], 'Thank you so much, this show saved my life, I was raped or I was sexually assaulted and this is my first time saying it out loud,' or 'Now I'm finally comfortable to talk about it openly,' and I think that's just what we wanted to do... that's what we sent out to do. Joy: And on the other side, I'm not 20 years old like Alisha, but I can't believe the women my age and women in their 30's and 40's who have reached out to me to say, 'I finally told my father after Jessica Davis told her father.' It's pretty powerful to know you're not alone.
"13 Reasons Why" is streaming now on Netflix.