13 Reasons Why's Dylan Minnnette says the cast "pushed" for controversial AIDS storyline

15 June 2020, 12:46

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By Sophie Thompson

13 Reasons Why star Dylan Minnette has come out in defence of the Netflix show's controversial AIDS storyline, that plays out the death of fan-favourite character Justin Foley.

Controversial Netflix show 13 Reasons Why has shocked us from season one as it began with its messy portrayal of the suicide of Hannah Baker. As the show recently drew to a close with the fourth and final season, it brought us yet another "should they have done that?" storyline which saw one of its main characters die after contracting AIDS.

It was revealed in the final episode that fan favourite Justin Foley, played by Brandon Flynn, had caught HIV while living on the streets undertaking sex work. He was handed an unworthy death sentence by the show as a result, after an entire season of viewers being left to figure out whose funeral we saw in the opening episode.

Of course, given the subject matter, and in true 13 Reasons Why lack-of-care style, people weren't particularly happy about the way Justin's diagnosis and demise were shown. Now, leading actor Dylan Minnette, also known as Clay Jensen, has leapt to its defence, arguing that the cast were pushing for it to happen, because "it would have the biggest emotional impact on the series." Right.

READ MORE: 13 Reasons Why season 4 ending: What happened to the characters?

Dylan Minnette has come out in defence of the Netflix shows portrayal of HIV.
Dylan Minnette has come out in defence of the Netflix shows portrayal of HIV. Picture: Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic/Netflix

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the 23-year-old who made his name as the socially awkward Clay, said: “I remember all season, Brandon and I were specifically hoping that it would be Justin. We were pushing for it and we would plead to [showrunner Brian Yorkey] making the case of why we feel like it should be him."

“Of course it’s devastating and tragic and we know that people would love to see him survive, but I think that’s what makes it all the more powerful."

He also added that Justin's death was made all the more emotional because of how we'd seen his relationship with Clay evolve. “Obviously it’s the most depressing move the show could make, but I feel like it’s also in line with the show to make that choice in the last episode, to make the most devastating choice.”

“They’re clearly enemies in season 1, and then it goes all the way to them loving each other more than anyone and becoming brothers and holding his hand on his deathbed."

“It’s also the last conversation between Clay and any of the students – it’s in Clay’s head, but the college essay scene. It feels like the perfect bookend because the finale feels like the story of Justin, and the first episode did because he was the first tape" he admitted.

“I feel like it was a strong choice to make, and as devastating as it is, I am so happy that Brian ended up making the decision to do it because it just felt right.”

But good intentions aside (and while of course it should be a positive thing for HIV/AIDS recognition on mainstream TV shows), there's no doubt that there were some serious inaccuracies, and we're not sure all is forgiven just yet.

In the show, Justin quickly spiralled from a HIV diagnosis to dying in a hospital bed from AIDS - a totally unrealistic scenario, as not only can you can live a normal healthy life once you take medication, but also because it would take much longer than a couple of months (as depicted in the show) for the illness to progress like that, even if left untreated.

Despite the outpouring of concern, particularly from the LGBTQ+ community, for the way the show approached the topic, so far Dylan is the only one to speak out about the controversy, and there are a lot of fans still waiting for answers.