Now Reading
Netflix goes global – but will it censor lesbian sex from Orange is the New Black?

Netflix goes global – but will it censor lesbian sex from Orange is the New Black?

The cast of Orange is the New Black

Netflix made a huge announcement yesterday at the CES 2016 consumer electronics show in Las Vegas – but has refused to be drawn on whether it will censor the LGBTI content of any of its shows.

In a keynote speech by co-founder and Chief Executive Reed Hastings, it announced that it was immediately and simultaneously expanding its reach to 130 new countries – bringing its total global reach to 190 countries.

New countries to come on board include Russia, South Korea, Nigeria, India, Turkey, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Poland

In fact, its easier to list the countries where it’s not available, which are Syria, North Korea and Crimea. This is due to U.S. Government restrictions on American companies in relation to these territories.

It is also not yet available in China, where Chinese Government permission is still being sought, but Hastings said that he hopes to be there soon: ‘We’re continuing to work on that and we’re very patient.’

Despite this omission, he confidently told the crowd, ‘You are witnessing the birth of a global TV network.’

Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings announces the company's global expansion in Las Vegas
Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings announces the company’s global expansion at CES in Las Vegas

Besides immediately boosting its potential audience, and prompting its share price to leap by 9% yesterday, this means that Netflix will be beaming its original content – such as House of Cards, Narcos, Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Orange is the New Black (OITNB) to many millions of more viewers – some of whom live in countries where same-sex sexual activity is illegal and positive representations of LGBT characters on screen have traditionally been non-existent.

In fact, in some countries, such as Russia, there are laws banning the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality.

OITNB, in particular, includes several LGBTI characters – including a trans woman played by Laverne Cox – and many scenes of same-sex sexual activity.

Responding to a request from Gay Star News, a Netflix representative indicated that OITNB would not be screening in several of the new countries, but this was because when the show was first commissioned and contracts signed, global rights were not included. However, they did confirm that the show is now airing in Asia and will soon air in the Middle East and Africa.

‘Most of our originals content will be available globally. However, with Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, we didn’t negotiate global licenses to the content and so they’ve aired on other platforms in the meantime. We may get them back in some of our new markets. For example, we have Orange is the New Black available in our new countries in Asia, with the title coming to the Middle East and Africa later this year, but have nothing further to announce at this time.

Asked if shows would be streamed unedited, they refused to be drawn on specifics but suggested content may be pin-protected if deemed necessary: ‘In terms of censoring – Netflix is sensitive to preferences of members where it operates.

‘Netflix will continue to make market-specific decisions based on the preferences of our members. You may see some content behind a PIN in certain markets where such a practice is expected by our members or required by applicable law.’

The comments echo sentiments expressed by Hastings during a Q&A at his Vegas announcement. Asked by The Verge if content might be altered for different territories, he replied: ‘As to your question about… different versions like “airplane cuts,” we’ll have to see and we’ll have to learn.

‘I think entertainment companies have to make compromises over time… the thrust of what we’re trying to do is have the artistic vision be consistent through the world.’

Dr Felicity Daly, Executive Director of the Kaleidoscope Trust, a UK-based organization that campaigns for global LGBT equality, cautiously welcomed news of the Netflix expansion.

‘Access to content showing LGBT lives can be a lifeline for LGBT people in other parts of the world,’ she told Gay Star News, ‘particularly if it challenges negative stereotypes in national media.’

As well as praising OITNB, she said Netflix carried a huge range of content, with many LGBTI characters, and she hoped that not all of it would be pin-protected.

‘It’s great if it’s as accessible as possible. The knock-on effect for social change is there, but there’s also a potential for backlash if LGBT people are encouraged to be more open after viewing content that empowers them but they are not supported in wider society.

‘Anything from overseas is going to be viewed through a different cultural lens. As a western viewer, you may understand the humor and playful use of stereotypes in programmes such as OITNB, whereas a straight viewer in a country like India may not understand the banter of a butch character in OITNB in the same way – they might simply reinforce their stereotypes.’

To counter this, she said she would like to see Netflix feature more foreign content, or to look at picking up more films from LGBTI film festivals from around the world – to take advantage of the opportunity to reflect an even wider range of LGBTI lives.

Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO & President of GLAAD, said, ‘Streaming services like Netflix are leading the pack when it comes to diverse LGBT representation in original programming, and now they have the opportunity to lead the pack across the world.

‘The global expansion of these services has the potential to build understanding and accelerate acceptance of LGBT people everywhere. As providers continue to expand in international markets, they must also ensure inclusive content is made available to viewers wherever safely possible.’

As part of the announcement, Netflix Content chief Ted Sarandos said the company would continue to further expand its production of original content – with around 600 hours of shows, movies and documentaries planned for this year.