Netflix's new reality series is receiving backlash before it's even aired

Abby Robinson
·5-min read
Photo credit: SOPA Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: SOPA Images - Getty Images

Netflix is no stranger to controversy.

Insatiable met with a torrent of criticism back in 2018 regarding its treatment of Debby Ryan's character. She played Patty, a high-schooler who was mocked and abused by her school peers until she underwent dramatic weight loss following an accident, which boosted her social stock. Suddenly, Patty was desirable, and she used her newfound popularity to enact revenge on all of those who had wronged her.

Far from being empowering, many saw it as just another piece of pop culture that perpetuates fatphobia and objectifies women's bodies.

The film Cuties also received a tidal wave of fury from those who claimed it sexualised is child stars. The narrative follows Amy, an 11-year-old Senegalese immigrant living in Paris who joins a local dance troupe, whose choreography is inspired by music videos and social media.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

The streamer is once again facing fresh condemnation for an upcoming project.

The series at the heart of the furore is Byron Baes, labelled thus by Netflix: "a docu-soap series following a 'feed' of hot Instagrammers living their best lives, being their best selves, creating the best drama content. #nofilter guaranteed."

Emma Lamb, who's worked on the supremely popular reality shows Married at First Sight Australia and The Real Housewives of Sydney, is on board an an executive producer, if you needed any more insight into the tone it will likely strike.

But a number of local residents are vehemently opposed.

A meeting was called last week, as reported by The Guardian Australia, at which members of the community and the owners of several popular businesses, including The Byron Bay General Store (GS) and No Bones restaurant, aired their concerns and grievances.

Photo credit: James D. Morgan - Getty Images
Photo credit: James D. Morgan - Getty Images

According to Ben Gordon, the owner of the GS, "there was no consultation whatsoever. They just came in unannounced" (via The Hollywood Reporter). He also claimed that the majority of the show's cast are not from the area, which sits in direct contrast to the claim from Que Minh Luu, director of local originals at Netflix Australia, that the series will be "authentic and honest".

But according to The Guardian Australia, the company did speak to "some locals before announcing its plans, including state and federal government representatives". Netflix also said several residents would be working on the show, either in production, or in areas such as catering, transport and accommodation.

Byron Shire Council's Greens Deputy Mayor Sarah Ndiaye has backed the resistance, labelling Byron Baes "vapid" and "tacky", adding (via ABC): "I think the community has come out so strongly because this is not who they are and this is not who they want to be portrayed as.

"I think it's a really lazy choice on Netflix's part."

Speaking to ABC, Byron Shire Mayor Simon Richardson said that the town didn't want to attract the type of people who "might be turned on by a vacuous vision of who we are", adding: "If we become a laughing stock through a really vacuous, fake show, it could have big — not just sensitivity challenges for us — but also economic challenges,"

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And the residents are certainly taking the fight to Netflix.

There have been protests, including one which involved a large number of surfers creating a cancel symbol in the water, just off the coast. And there's also an online petition, which discusses the negative impact that Byron Baes could have on the local environment and community.

It's attracted more than 8,500 signatures, which is impressive considering the population of Byron Bay sits at just over 9,000.

"We are a community experiencing significant challenges driven by influencer culture and rapidly shifting demographics of residents," it argues. "We do not want to be cast as the perfect backdrop and magnet for social media influencers. We do not want to appear in 'Byron Baes'."

Instead of the region being used as a "reality show punchline", as the petition claims, it requests that the relevant authorities focus on a number of more pressing issues, including affordable housing, gendered and domestic violence and coastal erosion, among others.

It also encourages those with power and sway not to sign filming permits, which would throw a spanner in the works for the cast and crew, and a number of businesses have already reportedly taken such action.

But Associate Professor David Waller, who is based at the University of Technology Sydney, told ABC that the noise being made by the protestors could actually work in Netflix's favour, acting as "free publicity" that might even feature in the show.

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Que Minh Luu has described the show as "a love letter to Byron Bay", and Chris Culvenor, co-CEO of Eureka Productions, has also talked up the series' "compelling cast, spectacular settings, and some truly addictive drama", adding: "Byron Baes has all the binge-worthy ingredients.

If it goes ahead, it'll be the first Australian reality series on the platform, and one that will supposedly explore "the area's unique attributes as a melting pot of entrepreneurialism, lifestyle and health practices, and the sometimes uneasy coming together of the traditional 'old Byron' and the alternative 'new' (via Guardian Australia).

But the strength of the outcry could well prevent it from happening, at least in Byron Bay.

Digital Spy has reached out to Netflix for comment.

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