By Rachel Savage
LONDON – Netflix axed a Turkish drama series after the government denied it a filming license over a gay character, a spokesman for the streaming service confirmed on Tuesday.
The move comes amid concerns over a rise in anti-LGBT+ rhetoric from Turkey’s political and religious leaders.
Filming of the show, which was called “If Only” and told the story of a unhappily married woman travelling back in time, was due to start shortly when Netflix decided last week to halt it.
The streaming company has seen demand for its services grow during the coronavirus pandemic. It added 10m subscribers in the second quarter of this year, taking it to almost 193m.
“Netflix remains deeply committed to our Turkish members and the creative community in Turkey,” the spokesman said in an email in which he also confirmed the decision to stop filming.
“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.”
Turkish officials did not reply to requests for comment.
Mahir Unal, spokesman for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), tweeted that he thought Netflix would now show “greater sensitivity,” apparently referring to the incident.
“Why should they think about leaving Turkey?” he posted. “I believe that Netflix, with deeper determination, will show greater sensitivity towards Turkish culture and arts.”
It is not the first time Netflix has been pulled up over the issue in Turkey – in April, unfounded speculation that another show, “Love 101,” would feature an openly gay character led to calls on social media for a boycott.
That month, Ali Erbas, the head of the state’s religious affairs directorate, said homosexuality caused disease and corruption. He was later defended by President Tayyip Erdogan.
Calls reporting homophobic and transphobic incidents to an LGBT+ hotline run by advocacy group SPoD doubled in the 45 days after Erbas’s comments.
“All this discussion is affecting our daily lives. Just yesterday a friend of ours was assaulted on the street,” Oguzhan Nuh, a HIV support worker for SPoD, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
The anti-LGBT+ rhetoric is part of a general opposition crackdown by the government, Nuh said.