Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why slammed for ‘irresponsible’ HIV storyline

13 reasons why justin foley death hiv aids terrence higgins trust
Photo: Netflix

Spoiler alert for season 4 of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why

An HIV awareness organisation has slammed the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why for a “lazy and sensationalist” HIV/AIDS storyline.

The fourth and final season of the teen drama, well-known for its love of shock tactics, arrived this week.

And the show ends with teen character Justin Foley (played by gay actor Brandon Flynn) passing away due to HIV/AIDS complications.

The show suggests Foley contracted HIV while injecting drugs or while he was a sex worker. His condition is shown rapidly deteriorating and within a matter of days he dies.

But viewers blasted the show for the “irresponsible” twist, which doesn’t show the reality of living with HIV in 2020.

“Producers had an amazing opportunity to teach people that HIV is no longer a death sentence,” one person fumed.

“Instead, they chose to kill Justin off, after they gave him the biggest character development?”

Another viewer pointed out it takes several years for HIV to progress to AIDS.

“So unless Justin was sharing needles or having unprotected sex at the age of six, I call bulls–t on this storyline,” they tweeted.

Storyline ‘lazily sensationalises’ HIV diagnosis

The Terrence Higgins Trust have also slammed the Netflix show for “completely distorting the reality of HIV” in their first and only HIV plotline.

“Justin’s story arc couldn’t be further from the reality of HIV for the vast majority of people who receive a positive diagnosis,” spokesperson Liam Beattie said.

“And as a message to the show’s young audience, is potentially really damaging if they’re hearing about HIV for the very first time.

“Netflix’s reach is huge – and the wrong information is being given out.”

He added, “We will always call out things like this that lazily sensationalise HIV for dramatic effect.

“Scientific progress in the HIV response has been one of the biggest success stories of modern-day medicine.

“Effective treatment means that HIV is no longer a death sentence and people can expect to live a normal and healthy life.

“We’re now even in the position to say with absolute confidence that people on effective HIV treatment cannot pass on the virus to others.”

Prejudice and stigma still a barrier to ending HIV

Beattie said the biggest hurdle to ending HIV in many countries wasn’t science but stubborn prejudice and stigma around the condition.

“Fear of having an HIV test is one of those barriers. The 13 Reasons Why storyline risks compounding those fears,” he said.

“The show had a real opportunity to inform and educate its young audience about the realities of HIV. But instead, it chose fear over reality.

“Everyone has a part to play in ending the HIV epidemic once and for all.

“Television has its part to play by choosing science over distortion and stigma. Viewers deserve nothing less.”

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Jordan Hirst
Jordan Hirst

Jordan Hirst is an experienced journalist and content creator with a career spanning over a decade at QNews. Since 2012, the Brisbane local has covered an enormous range of topics and subjects in-depth affecting the LGBTIQA+ community, both in Australia and overseas. Today, the Brisbane-based journalist covers everything from current affairs, politics and health to sport and entertainment.

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