Turkey does not seem to have any problems with the presence of LGBT people in international soap operas. “Orange Is the New Black” is one of the most popular series among Turkish Netflix users. But when it comes to local production, the government’s level of tolerance is narrower.
– Due to the gay character, the recording of the series was not allowed (editor’s note “If Only”) which is really scary for the future, says screenwriter Ece Yörenç for Altyazi Fasikul, a Turkish news site about movies and TV series.
The recording of the series “If Only” has already begun, but the Turkish Media Authority “RT UK” is refusing to grant the production company permission to record and has demanded that the homosexual character be monitored. Netflix chose to cancel the recording rather than bow to the demands of script changes.
“If only” would be about a grieving married mother of two children with flashbacks of the period her husband was introduced to.
Maher Onal, a spokesman for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, acknowledges that Turkey has discussed the objections in the script with Netflix.
“Homosexuality and other teachings are used in the struggle against Turkish values,” Maher Onal said in an interview with a Turkish journalist.
Not the first time
This is the second time this year that Netflix and the Turkish government have entered into a conflict over the sexuality of comic book characters.
The first controversy over Othman’s character ended in the popular teen drama “Love 101”. Osman can be described as a Turkish equivalent of Dylan in “Beverly Hills”, sweet as sugar but tough as stone.
According to the original text, Othman must have been openly gay. But after pressure from the Turkish government, Netflix has given in and removed all expressions of its position, according to government spokesperson Maher Onal.
On Monday, Netflix released a press release refuting rumors that Netflix will withdraw completely from Turkish production in the future due to the controversy.
“We currently have several original Turkish series in production – and even more in the pipeline – and we look forward to sharing these stories with our users all over the world.”
Netflix had 1.5 million paying users in Turkey at the start of the year.
Affected by many government demands
The dispute between Netflix and Turkey comes at a time when President Erdogan wants to tighten the screws on international social media companies and online services.
On Tuesday, a bill was introduced in the Turkish parliament requiring Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other companies to censor content after Turkish court decisions. If media companies do not agree to the demands, they are threatened with fines of up to several million, withholding advertising revenue and restricting internet access, according to the bill.
Homosexuality is legal in Turkey, and for a long time the country was considered a haven for LGBT people in the Middle East. But in recent years, the Pride rallies have stalled and high-ranking politicians from President Erdoan’s party have issued aggressive statements on the issue, and human rights organizations warn that hostility toward LGBT people in Turkey has risen sharply in the past year.