Netflix is cancelling the Turkish series If Only rather than submit to the government's demand to remove a gay character. The 8-part series starring Turkish film actress Ozge Ozpirincci was set to tell the story of an unhappily married mother of twins who travels back in time to the night of her husband's marriage proposal.
The show had been announced in March and with screenwriter Ece Yorenc as creator and showrunner. The BBCis reporting Yorenc confirmed to FT that "permission to film the series was not granted" due to a gay character. Netflix has also confirmed the story.
Mahir Unal, spokesperson for ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) tweeted that Netflix needs to "show a higher sensitivity towards Turkish culture and art" as well as a "deeper cooperation" with the government.
\u201c#NetflixTurkey ne siyasi d\u00fczeyde AK Parti Tan\u0131t\u0131m ve Medya Ba\u015fkanl\u0131\u011f\u0131 ile ne de resm\u00ee d\u00fczeyde \u0130leti\u015fim Ba\u015fkanl\u0131\u011f\u0131 ile g\u00f6r\u00fc\u015ft\u00fc.T\u00fcrkiye\u2019den gitmeyi neden d\u00fc\u015f\u00fcns\u00fcnler? Netflix'in daha derin i\u015fbirli\u011fi ile T\u00fcrk k\u00fclt\u00fcr\u00fcne, sanat\u0131na d\u00f6n\u00fck daha y\u00fcksek hassasiyet g\u00f6sterece\u011fine inan\u0131yorum.\u201d
For its part, Netflix says it "remains deeply committed to our Turkish members and the creative community in Turkey."
Turkey is currently under the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. While homosexuality is legal in Turkey, Erdogan's policies have been seen as threatening to the LGBTQ+ community. Members of the AKP have also proposed a series of bills that would further tighten control on social media and elsewhere.
Netflix says they are "proud of the incredible talent" in the Turkish creative community and "have several Turkish originals in production." The company has a policy of respecting local regulations for original content. It denied it had removed a gay character from Love 101, another Turkish Netflix original, after receiving similar pressure from the government.
Yorenc retweeted a 27-month-old quote from Netflix founder Wilmot Reed Hastings, Jr., that touched on the current issue of censorship and creative freedom under the Erdogan government. At the time, appeared to brush off those concerns, saying "I can not imagine such a thing."