As the first season of 13 Reasons Why slowly unfolds the story of Hannah Baker’s life (and why she decided to end it), the episodes grow progressively darker. One of the season’s most memorable hours, episode 12 — directed by Jessica Yu (American Crime) — contains Hannah’s rape, for which producers made a conscious choice to have a woman direct the installment.
“We felt really strongly that we wanted to have a woman direct the episode, for a few reasons,” showrunner Brian Yorkey says. “We wanted Katherine [Langford] to be very comfortable with what it was she had to do and we felt it would be helpful for another woman to be guiding her through it. We also wanted a woman because a great deal of the show is Hannah being seen through the male gaze. It was very important to us for Hannah to be led by a woman [for this episode].”
Langford remembers feeling supported during the entire filming experience. “It was a real privilege working with Jessica Yu, particularly on that episode, because she brought such a smart and such a thoughtful approach to it,” Langford says. “I think, as a woman, she was able to talk to me in a way maybe that I could understand on a deeper or more personal level. I felt so looked after.”
Furthermore, Langford applauds Yu for her approach to the challenging material. “I remember her talking about how we were going to shoot it and how different angles could make it look sexual, which is another problem: So much porn is based on rape fantasy. And so for her, shooting it was about not making it look like sex but more a physical action,” Langford says.