Netflix has stopped production of the Turkish drama series “If Only” after the Turkish Ministry of Culture and the Turkish Media Regulatory Commission (RTÜK) refused to grant the production team permission to shoot because of a homosexual character.

The shooting of the series “If Only”, in which the unhappily married Reyhan travels back in time, was supposed to start shortly. Besides Reyhan, there should have been another gay main character – but this one was a thorn in the side of the Turkish media supervisory authority.

“Because of a homosexual character, no permission was granted to the series,” reported the author of the script of “If Only” (“Şimdiki Aklım Olsaydı”), Ece Yörenç, the Turkish online film magazine Altyazı Fasikül. This is “very frightening for the future”.

 

Mahir Unal, spokesman for the ruling party AKP (“Party for Justice and Upswing”), twittered on Monday that there were problems with some scripts, but that Netflix had been cooperative and was now “more sensitive”. He believes,

“that Netflix will work more closely together to promote Turkish culture and art.”

Netflix did not want to expose itself to “close cooperation” in this case: Instead of complying with the demands of the government in Ankara, the company has decided to stop production completely, a spokesperson for the streaming service confirmed to the Financial Times. Rumors about possible suspension of all productions in Turkey were not confirmed by Netflix. “Netflix continues to be very committed to our Turkish members and the creative community in Turkey,” the spokesperson told the Financial Times.

“#NetflixTurkey met on political level with the public relations and media presidium of the AKP and on official level with the communication directorate. Why should they think about leaving Turkey? I believe that Netflix will show more sensitivity to Turkish culture and art with closer cooperation.”

US streaming giant often adapts to national customs

Netflix is known for designing content to fit the political economy of the country in which it is used. The company has responded to requests to remove certain content locally on several occasions, as can be seen in the 2019 Transparency Report.

This year, the Turkish authorities had an episode of “Designated Survivor”, in which a fictitious Turkish statesman demands the extradition of an activist from the USA, removed from the local offering. Speculation that Netflix had already bowed to pressure from the Turkish authorities on homosexuality and removed a homosexual character from the “Love 101” series, however, was rejected by the company – such a character had never existed, they said.

Even though homosexuality is not punishable in Turkey and LGBTIQ*-inclusive series such as “Orange Is the New Black” can be streamed uncensored in Turkey, the climate has become rougher under the Islamic-conservative government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The Istanbul Pride Onur Yürüyüşü (“March of Pride”), for example, has been banned by the government for five years in a row, and the queer sports festival Queer Olympix could not take place last year either because the Turkish authorities issued a last-minute ban.

The head of the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), Ali Erbaş, had recently caused an uproar when he openly expressed his ‘displeasure’ about homosexuality. On April 24, Erbaş said in a sermon that Islam curses homosexuality because “homosexuality brings disease and the decline of descent. Let us work together to protect people from such evils.”

 

Monopoly of interpretation and opinion of the AKP?

For the opposition, there’s no question that the government’s aim with the Netflix censorship is to make everyone in Turkey think like the AKP. The Turkish civil society does not see it completely in this way, which is exemplified by election results and the debate on censorship.

 

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  • PhotoGrid_1595696954636: Pictures: DiChatz und A. Sessa / Unsplash / CC0

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