Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
In the depths of my procrastination this past weekend, I finally got around to binge-watching 13 Reasons Why on Netflix. Yes, it's problematic in many ways. The biggest criticism stems from the fact that it glorifies suicide, but that's for another column. While the series raises concerns, it does excel in one area: the visibility on quality actors of color and them having their own unique, vivid stories.
We have Alisha Boe, a Norwegian-Somali actress who plays the main character's independent and strong-willed former best friend. There's Tony, played by Christian Navarro, an actor of Puerto Rican descent. I haven't gotten far enough in the series to see if Tony's motives are pure, but audiences can get a vibe for his fierce loyalty and strength from the get-go. We also meet Zach, played by Singapore-native Ross Butler, a somewhat minor character. But when do we ever get to see an Asian football player on the screen? The list doesn't stop there.
The beauty of this diverse cast is not in the mere presence of people of color. We have characters who don't play the "stereotypical" mold their predecessors once did. 13 Reasons Why adds a layer to each of them and refuses to let its viewers settle for static characters of color. For instance, I just finished watching the scene in which Tony tries to justify the events in an earlier episode where he and his brothers were seen beating up a boy. It was so easy for the story to result in Tony being a stereotypical, one-dimensional Latino gangster figure, but instead the story adds complexity: Tony and his brothers were avenging their sister, whom the boy had messed with. After Clay, our naive and white lead, asks why Tony didn't just go to the police, Tony adds, "The police in my neighborhood are a little different than yours," which subtly touches on the critical issue of racial inequality. Courtney, who does physically appear to fit the Asian star student mold, is afraid of people finding out about her sexuality. This show does an amazing job of not only casting people of color, but giving them honest and original stories that don't perpetuate stereotypes.
13 Reasons Why is not the only Netflix show that portrays people of color in a substantial and positive light. There's The Get Down, which explores black and Latino youth culture in the South Bronx with flavors of hip hop and other forms of art. There's Master of None, inspired by famous comedian Aziz Ansari who plays the lead role of Dev, an Indian-American living in New York City. The list goes on.
While it seems Hollywood is continuously growing more and more white with its pernicious whitewashing of people of color (Avatar: the Last Airbender and Pan, I'm talking to you), Netflix is heading in the right direction. Its natural and vivid transition to hiring more diverse actors is something to commend and celebrate. It is giving a platform to these actors of color to shine, and for audiences to deeply relate to and empathize with them in return. Netflix, you get five stars from me.
Maris Medina is a freshman journalism major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.