Arts and Culture

6 Netflix videos that caused controversy in 2017

Written by Sinead Horne

2017 seems to have been the year of controversy on Netflix, with a number of series and films receiving backlash or stirring heated discussion. Topical matters have been explored, from mental illness to the porn industry and back again. Outlandish claims have been made and trigger warnings have been forgotten. Let’s take a look at a six of the series and films that have caused commotion this year.

13 Reasons Why

This Netflix Original Series tells the story of a seventeen year old girl who takes her own life, and leaves behind thirteen tapes explaining why. On it’s initial release, the show didn’t include trigger warnings before every episode or any kind of information on where to find supportive resources, despite it being solely about suicide. It also features a very graphic suicide scene and two rape scenes. This caused huge backlash on social media, with Headspace eventually issuing a warning about the distressing nature of the show and the fact it could lead to “increased risk and national suicide contagion”. There is now a trigger warning at the beginning of the first episode advising viewer discretion.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Headspace issues warning over graphic Netflix series 13 Reasons Why <a href=””></a></p>&mdash; Canberra Times (@canberratimes) <a href=”″>April 18, 2017</a></blockquote>
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To the Bone

Released last month, this Netflix Original Film is about a young girl suffering with anorexia who begrudgingly enters a treatment facility to find help. It instantly received a multitude of backlash on social media, with people claiming it glamourises and trivialises the issue, as well as instilling the impression there is only one kind of eating disorder. Central to the backlash, however, was the fact that lead actress Lily Collins, who previously suffered with anorexia, lost a substantial amount of weight to play the role. Many critics expressed concern that this was neither safe, nor responsible of the actress. The film also depicts many images of “thinness”, a huge trigger to viewers who are suffering or may have suffered with an eating disorder.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Netflix’s ‘to the bone’ is just a massive trigger to anyone with mental health problems or any form of eating disorder, it is not helpful</p>&mdash; morgan (@mxrganmc) <a href=”″>June 20, 2017</a></blockquote>
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Whether or not this was the intention of filmmaker Bong Joon Ho, Okja is essentially an anti-meat propaganda film. It follows the story of a young Korean girl growing up in the mountains with her ‘super pig’ friend Okja, a genetically mutated animal who unbeknownst to her, is to be taken to the U.S and made into bacon and sausages. Heart-breaking and eye-opening, the film, featuring an all-star cast, urged many to announce their new vegan stance on Twitter as well as instigating further discussion about animal cruelty. It also stirred controversy at the Cannes Film Festival, with many claiming the film threatened the future of film (being a Netflix Original and made for Netflix) and should therefore not be screened at the festival.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”><a href=””>@jonronson</a> I’m a 43 year old life long meat eater and after watching <a href=””>#okja</a> find myself this lunchtime sat in a vegan restaurant in Cardiff</p>&mdash; Barry (@barry_kerslake) <a href=”″>June 29, 2017</a></blockquote>
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Dear White People

Another Netflix Original series, Dear White People is a tongue-in-cheek comedy set in a high school, which looks at the institutional and casual racism that still exists in the 21st century. The name alone caused heated backlash, with people crying ‘reverse racism’ and ‘anti-whiteness’ all over social media. It even sparked a #BoycottNetflix campaign on Twitter, urging people to cancel their Netflix subscriptions before the show was even released. An actual look at the series shows it’s not at all bigoted towards white-people, and is more about education and the equality and unity of all races.

What the Health

Made by the creators of Cowspiracy, this documentary has caused intense debate all over the social media, mostly for it’s claim that eating one egg is as bad for you as smoking five cigarettes. The pro-vegan film explores the idea that animal products are toxic, and are giving us a range of cancers as well as Type-2 diabetes. While the film has urged a lot of viewers to re-assess their meat-heavy diets or turn vegan, it’s also sparked anger in many, who have accused the film of sensationalising, cherry-picking studies and distorting facts. What the Health also makes some other big statements, such as 90% of cancer is caused by food which has been debunked all over social media.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Just watched <a href=””>@WhatheHealth</a> on <a href=””>@netflix</a>. I wasn’t surprised by the findings of this documentary but it has inspired me to change my diet.</p>&mdash; Miss (W)Right (@auntie_kimw) <a href=”″>July 13, 2017</a></blockquote>
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<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Watching <a href=””>#Whathehealth</a> on Netflix and now I’m just going to eat &quot;air&quot; for the rest of my life. <a href=””>#Netflix</a> <a href=””>#healthcare</a></p>&mdash; Aaron SpiveySorrells (@aaronss101) <a href=”″>July 27, 2017</a></blockquote>
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Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On

Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On is a doco-series by Netflix which takes peak into the porn industry and how it works. It’s received wide-spread critical acclaim as well as huge criticism for portraying sex work negatively and with bias, and for supposedly exploiting sex-workers. Several of the adult-film workers who appear in the film claimed the producers weren’t truthful about the nature of the documentary in order to get them to sign releases. Many even said the film-makers promised them they wouldn’t appear in the film and showed them in it anyway.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>HEY <a href=””>@hotgirlswanted</a> REMEMEBER WHEN YOU PROMISED TO CUT MY PART BC YOU WERE TRYING TO MAKE ME TALK ABOUT MY FAMILY AND I WAS UNCOMFORTABLE</p>&mdash; #1 Dad (@GiaPaige) <a href=”″>April 23, 2017</a></blockquote>
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<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>That does not erase the fact I was posted on one of the largest live streaming sites with 0 confirmation that I’d be okay with it.</p>&mdash; Effs (@effy_elizabeth_) <a href=”″>April 23, 2017</a></blockquote>
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About the author

Sinead Horne