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‘The Plainville Girl’ is a frustrating look at the reality of ‘suicide by text message’ cases

It has been nearly eight years since Massachusetts teenager Conrad Roy took his own life as his then 17-year-old girlfriend Michelle Carter pushed him through increasingly disturbing text messages. This tragic moment culminated with a landmark “Suicidal SMS” conviction that landed her in jail for manslaughter. Since his release in 2020, the court of public opinion has maintained a whole series of indictments against him. Bully, liar and murderer, to name a few. But “The Girl From Plainville” offers a different perspective: misunderstood.

It’s the latest series that goes out of its way to convince its audience that there’s more to the Offending white woman than the headlines suggest. And to be fair, in this case, it’s kind of true. As “The Girl From Plainville” shows, Michelle (Elle Fanning), like Conrad (Coltan Ryan), has had her own history of mental illness, including depression, which has been conveniently understated in media coverage as well as throughout his trial. She’s socially awkward and doesn’t really have any friends (the two she refers to are the ones who leaked information about her damaging texts with Conrad to law enforcement).

There’s even a moment in the Hulu series, from showrunners Liz Hannah and Patrick Macmanus, when Michelle’s parents (played by Cara Buono and Kai Lennox) fear she’s going back to her old ways. They approach her about it long before Conrad’s death, and she denies it. So when Michelle becomes involved with Conrad, she initially seems comforting and understanding when he tells her about his suicidal thoughts and how he dropped out of therapy. Yet the series shows how this turns into a two-year co-dependency between minors with varying levels of emotional and mental stability.

Michelle Carter (Elle Fanning) and Conrad Roy (Colton Ryan) in “The Plainville Girl”.

Cognac Porch, ​​a licensed professional counselor with Mindpath Health, consider how this could trigger an unhealthy dynamic. “Even to sit and listen while someone has committed suicide and have no remorse afterwards are purely antisocial tendencies,” she told HuffPost. “She had serious mental health issues, and that’s probably what tied them together: trauma.”

But the remorse part seems moot because “The Girl From Plainville” depicts Michelle as bewildered days after Conrad’s death. And yet, there’s a scene in which she stands in front of the mirror practicing to look grief-stricken as a tearful episode of “Glee” plays in the background.

For John Cirillo, a psychologist and lawyer, it shows how much control she had over her actions as well as her complicity in Conrad’s suicide – far more than he ever was, even despite his difficulties. “It’s kind of like him taking on his worst traits,” she said. “She did vicariously the things that part of her wanted to do, but now she didn’t have to kill herself or hurt herself. She could stay healthy, but he was the sacrificial lamb.

Opinions about Michelle’s degree of responsibility persist today as numerical toxicity reached alarming levels, teenage suicide cases keep going up and mental health remains stigmatized in many circles. In “The Girl From Plainville”, these cross-issues are humanized and raise the question of whether Michelle received the proper punishment for her behavior.

‘The Plainville Girl’ is a frustrating look at the reality of ‘suicide by text message’ cases
Michelle Carter (Elle Fanning) with her parents, Gail Carter (Cara Buono) and David Carter (Kai Lennox), in “The Plainville Girl.”

But it’s what the series doesn’t explore that festers in the mind long after watching it. Namely, Michelle’s 12-month jail sentence, which was removed from the original 15-month sentence due to her good behavior. This remains a point of contention among those who believe that had she been of color the sentence would have been much longer.

“If, say, it was Black-on-Black or Hispanic-on-Hispanic, they would either ignore it [or] he wouldn’t have made the press,” said Debra Warner, forensic psychologist and trauma expert. “No one would know because they are people of color. Or they would still be [in prison].”

It’s true. The current era of social media and texting, alongside cultural reckoning, has led to many instances of toxic behavior and online bullying that have gone unchecked, especially when it comes to teenagers. of color. Although Michelle’s case is considered to set a standard for how the courts consider cases of encouraged suicide, it is far from the only one we should be talking about.

“It’s not the first time parents have tried to bring it to this level,” Porche said. “I know that in the mental hospital, a lot of people go to the police station because they want the police to do something about the influence of this other child on their child.”

‘The Plainville Girl’ is a frustrating look at the reality of ‘suicide by text message’ cases
Elle Fanning stars as Michelle Carter on Hulu’s “The Girl From Plainville.”

You can argue that what made Michelle’s case so definitive, as “The Girl From Plainville” points out, was his own disturbing text messages which were used as evidence of her guilt and what she tried to cover up. The one that seals her fate is when she tells Conrad to get back in his truck he had filled with carbon monoxide, when he begins to change his mind.

But that doesn’t mean others shouldn’t be treated with the same level of investigation or importance. After all, the issue long predated Michelle, and yet her story has gained a gigantic profile. As a result, she became a celebrity in her own right. Even before “The Girl From Plainville,” there was the 2019 documentary “I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter,” released just a month into her sentence. People are not as fascinated by her story as they are troubled by it – many want to understand her.

‘The Plainville Girl’ is a frustrating look at the reality of ‘suicide by text message’ cases
Inyoung You, a former Boston College student, pleaded guilty to manslaughter on December 23, 2021, after prosecutors said she drove her boyfriend to suicide after exchanging thousands of text messages.

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

On the contrary, this same interest is not given to young people of color, who fear being criminalized long before they consider involving law enforcement. Or, as Warner suggested, far fewer people would notice anyway – as in the case of As a young you23, the Korean-born former Boston College student who urged her then-boyfriend to kill himself in 2019. She pleaded guilty to manslaughter and, unlike Michelle, was explicitly banned to benefit financially from the facts of the case during its 10 years. one year trial period.

Even more damning is when the perpetrators are not prosecuted at all when the victim is of color. Latin Rosalie Avila was just 13 in 2017 when she took her own life after being relentlessly bullied by her peers online and in person. And even Avila’s parents didn’t know she was struggling.

Porche explains that there is still a stigma against mental health and whistleblowing that particularly affects people of color with compromised states, like Michelle’s, even inside hospitals and psychiatric wards. “They’re supposedly incapable of having good mental health,” she said. “Notice, I included the word ‘clean’ because we are supposed to have lower mental capacity than our white counterparts. So they are treated differently inside hospitals; their consequences are different.

‘The Plainville Girl’ is a frustrating look at the reality of ‘suicide by text message’ cases
Michelle Carter (Elle Fanning) in a scene from ‘The Plainville Girl’.

So not only is mental illness not given enough consideration in the courts, as in Michelle’s case, but cases involving people of color are either not even heard or mishandled at the mental hospital level. . When someone white becomes the example, it only makes the treatment of everyone else’s case all the more blatant.

We know what happens to people like Michelle, who is a free woman today and maybe even reflects on her story in “The Girl from Plainville.” But what should we make of what happened with Avila or You in today’s so-called accountability culture?

“To like the college admission thing, people have probably been doing it for years, but no one had an example,” Warner said of the national elite college corruption scandal. “Now we do. So that starts the thought and the process of something happening. In ten years, we will know how it unfolds.

But can we really wait a decade for justice to be served for everyone else?

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, Round-the-clock support from the crisis text line. Outside the United States, please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story had Cara Buono’s last name misspelled.

The Huffington Gt

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