Netflix Cancels Turkish Show After Government Demands Removal of Gay Character

Istanbul Skyline

The Turkish government refused to grant Netflix series 'If Only' a filming license if the streamer stuck to the the script.

Netflix has confirmed it has canceled production on its original Turkish series If Only after local authorities demanded the streamer remove a gay character from the script.

The streaming giant announced the eight-part romantic drama in March. Produced by Turkish shingle Ay Yapim, If Only was set to feature Turkish film star Özge Özpirinççi.

But Netflix has pulled the plug on the show after authorities, citing the existence of a homosexual supporting character in the script, refused to issue a filming license. Instead of censoring the script, Netflix has decided to pull the series altogether.

This is the first time Turkey has intervened directly to censor a Netflix show in the territory. A Netflix representative noted that the streamer's shows with LGBTQ content, such as Orange Is the New Black or Ryan Murphy's Hollywood, air uncensored on its Turkish platform. The company had denied accusations it removed a gay character from another Turkish original, Love 101, under pressure from Ankara.

"We did not edit Love 101 to remove an LGBTQ character from the show — there never was one in the first place," Netflix said at the time.

But this is not the first time Turkey has censored Netflix. Earlier this year, local authorities issued a take-down order for an episode of political thriller Designated Survivor, which streams on Netflix in Turkey. The government in Ankara claimed the show violated its censorship laws because of the depiction of a fictional Turkish leader, played by actor Troy Caylak, as a villain. 

Following the failed military coup in July 2016, the conservative government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has led a nationwide crackdown on freedom of expression. Turkey has arrested tens of thousands of people, including many journalists, in recent years for alleged ties to antigovernment and terrorist groups. Last week an Istanbul court sentenced Deniz Yücel, a prominent Turkish-German journalist, to nearly three years in prison in absentia, accusing him of spreading "terrorist propaganda" in his articles on Turkey for Germany's Die Welt newspaper.

Erdogan has also been accused of playing to his conservative Muslim base by opposing the rights of religious or sexual minorities.

Homosexuality has been legal in Turkey since the founding of the modern Turkish state in 1923, but there are laws on the books regarding "offenses against public morality" that have been interpreted to be used against the local LGBTQ community.

In an official statement, Netflix said it remained committed to producing shows in Turkey, one of the fastest-growing international markets for the streaming giant. "Netflix remains deeply committed to our Turkish members and the creative community in Turkey," the company said. "We are proud of the incredible talent we work with. We currently have several Turkish originals in production — with more to come — and look forward to sharing these stories with our members all around the world."

Netflix's policy is to follow local regulations when it comes to original content. It remains to be seen how official Turkish censorship will impact what local stories Netflix will be allowed to tell.