Although Saudi Arabia has a history of censorship when it comes to queer-inclusive film and television, there is plenty of LGBTQ+ content (like Queer Eye and Orange Is the New Black) for users in the conservative country to stream on the popular Netflix streaming service. But how, you ask? Especially since other queer-friendly titles have been so easily banned? Well, one of Netflix's top execs is shedding light on the situation.
In an interview with CNN, the streaming giant's co-CEO Reed Hastings explains that in order to keep beloved queer titles up on the Saudia Arabian version of its platform, the team had to make compromises in regards to some other Netflix projects — namely comedian and writer Hasan Minhaj's Patriot Act.
Back in January of last year, Netflix pulled an episode from the first season of Minhaj's (now canceled) political comedy/talk show that was critical of an account given by Saudi officials about the killing of writer and journalist Jamal Khashoggi. According to The Verge, the Saudi government requested that Netflix take down the episode as it violated the country's cybercrime laws. The streaming service eventually did take the episode down (although it can still be watched in Saudi Arabia on the show's YouTube channel), effectively censoring Patriot Act in order to save their LGBTQ+ lineup of shows from their own censorship.
"It was a very difficult decision," Hastings told CNN about the reasons behind pulling a critical episode of Patriot Act. "We ended up being able to keep the episode up in Saudi Arabia on YouTube, strangely, not on Netflix."
"With that, we are able to have all of our other content, like Queer Eye, Sex Education, and Orange Is the New Black, available in Saudi Arabia. It is a troubling compromise, it is not something we approached easily or lightly. But, on balance, we think it’s a good move."
Saudi Arabia has a long, complicated past when it comes to the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. PinkNews reports that religious morality laws are often used to persecute the middle eastern country's queer citizens. And media that is seen including and promoting queerness often gets censored/banned.