Netflix's After and blind reading

By Dakarai Jane Bonyongwe

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Recently, there’s been a trend on Netflix of making movies that are based on specific kinds of books, namely those which began on a site called Wattpad. For the purposes of this article, I think I should share that I grew up reading Wattpad books, and I’m guilty of participating in the very thing I’m critiquing now: blind reading.

Books on Wattpad are written by aspiring writers of any age, and I think that’s telling of the content that you find on the site. Some books aren’t very good, and some are truly so well written that it makes you wonder why it isn’t published. As humans, we internalise a lot of things just by watching, hearing, or reading them to the point that we can become desensitized to the truth of what we’re actually consuming and normalising. Moreover, people seemed to be buying into this portrayal of it. After watching the movie After, I realized that there was a level of toxicity being glorified under the guise of being true love. However, reading the book it was based on - for comparison purposes - I ended up rethinking every Wattpad book I’d ever read as a teenager, as well as every published book thereafter.

After is the story of a boy, Hardin, with deep rooted psychological issues entering into a relationship with Tessa, the epitome of every mother’s dream. First of all, their relationship resulted in Tessa putting everything on the line to be with him. Before the end of her first year, she had been disowned and left without any means of paying her tuition all because of Hardin. While her mother is judgmental and has her flaws, you have to admit that Hardin and Tessa’s relationship is bordering on extreme. Not to mention, it’s built on a series of critical lies that only come to light at the end of the first book. In light of this, it’s important to mention that Hardin has serious commitment issues. Their relationship was made official many times before he decided it was official. Furthermore, he treats their relationship as a one-sided game where the goal is to see how many times he can hurt and humiliate her before she decides that she (really anyone) deserves more than he’s been giving her.

“You like rejection— don’t you? That’s why you keep coming around me, isn’t it?”

Some of you are probably thinking that it’s the typical teen fiction ‘ I can change him’ narrative. Nevertheless, I’m here to point out that the teens that read this kind of narrative grow into the adults that begin to expect and live it out. If books written by your peers glorify emotionally abusive relationships, it’s only a matter of time before being verbally put down stops affecting you and starts being acceptable as a characteristic of whoever is putting you through it. My biggest concern with this book is how the words ‘I love you’ are used as some sort of binding chord that prevent her from leaving him. Every time Hardin thinks Tessa will leave him, he blurts out these words to make her stay and, frustratingly enough, she does.

“I Love you, Tessa. You believe me don’t you?”

Why? It’s because at this point he has conditioned her to forgiving him despite the fact that she’s better off as far away from him as possible. What this narrative glorifies is an emotionally abusive relationship with someone who is violent, manipulative, and toxic to be around. Regardless, let’s not be blind readers and start to pick up on detrimental themes we’re taking in. We shouldn’t romanticise things that are harmful.

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