Every Controversy Surrounding One of Netflix’s Most Shocking and Popular Series This Year

Netflix
Courtesy of Netflix © 2024

Baby Reindeer is possibly the most harrowing title Netflix will release this year. The seven-episode series dramatizes actual events that happened to series creator and lead actor Richard Gadd. It’s a limited series based on Gadd’s award-winning one-man play, which sees him portray a fictionalized version of himself named Donny Dunn. 

Donny is an aspiring comedian who bartends while waiting for his big break. While working at the bar, he meets a woman, Martha (Jessica Gunning), who begins stalking him. As things escalate, it forces Donny to face the trauma that he’s attempted to bury.

Although this distressing story is told in a darkly comedic way, I’d suggest that the Netflix content warnings should be taken seriously. This isn’t the first time a sexual assault survivor has turned their trauma into art; take, for example, Michaela Coel’s recent and excellent I May Destroy You on (HBO) Max.

However, Baby Reindeer seems to be at the center of a few unexpected controversies. Allow us to assist you in keeping track of them all below. 

The Real Fiona Harvey

Fiona Harvey has confirmed that Martha is based on her and is threatening legal action against Netflix and Gadd. After the internet discovered her identity, she appeared on the Piers Morgan Show. During the interview, she claimed she hadn’t watched Gadd’s Netflix series before denying that she stalked him.

However, it must be stated that the internet tracked her down because fans found her tweets at Gadd that contained specific phrases he used in Baby Reindeer. Harvey also claims no one contacted her about the series. Previously, Netflix has gotten in trouble for producing Dahmer without notifying and receiving consent from the victims’ families. While Harvey’s name is never used in the series, this case could be tricky. 

Gadd has been very upfront about how he changed some of the details to keep the audience from figuring out the real identities of people his characters are based on. However, Netflix’s title card at the top of each episode of Baby Reindeer says, “This is a true story.” That small detail is also causing controversy as it’s more of a “based on” or “inspired by” true events situation.

It May Only Get Worse for Netflix

According to Deadline, the UK Government has proposed a new bill that would allow Gadd’s alleged stalker to make fairness and privacy complaints against Netflix. While her name is never used in the series, and Gadd covered his tracks, internet sleuths finding out her identity would give her a leg to stand on. This is a terrifying possibility because many creatives write what they know. If this bill goes through, it would seemingly be another way to harm victims rather than perpetrators. 

Internet Sleuths 

Many fans seem to discard Gadd’s wishes about trying to track down the actual people his characters are based on. Specifically, now that they have outed Fiona Harvey, they want to know who Darrien (Tom Goodman-Hill) is based on. Older comedians are by no means strangers to assault accusations, with Louis C.K. and Bill Cosby serving as two well-known examples. However, if a survivor asks you not to pry, you should respect their wishes. This is especially true as we see how the justice system fails survivors, allowing predators to go free all the time.

So, while the impulse to want justice on someone’s behalf is understandable, it’s not the society we live in today. This comes across as fans feeling entitled to more details than what Gadd is willing to share.

Bad Twitter Takes

One Twitter user wrote that they saw the stage version of Baby Reindeer and felt it was an “extremely unsafe experience for the audience and the actor.” The person seemed upset that people were praising the series for the way it handles such heavy subject matter and wrote a Twitter thread explaining their position.

Read the tweet below:

The thread spurred quite a conversation about media literacy and what it means to tell stories such as Gadd’s that involve assault, stalking, and mental illness.

This is not the only argument about the show. Some people are calling it fatphobic as they rail against Jessica Gunning being cast as the stalker. However, such statements ignore the performance Gunning gives in the show. As a fat woman myself, I loved seeing Gunning in one of the leading roles as a character who isn’t stuck talking about weight and food like in most TV shows. It’s a step, albeit a strange one, away from the usual weight-obsessed stereotypes we typically get.

Should You Watch Baby Reindeer on Netflix?

I actually did binge Baby Reindeer a couple of weekends ago. It’s a difficult watch, but beautifully acted, written, and directed. I appreciated that Gadd didn’t take this opportunity to paint the fictionalized version of himself as an unimpeachable character. Donny makes choices that we don’t understand; he’s a messy character who sometimes says and does things that we disagree with. However, Donny does not deserve anything that happens to him. It’s also hard to ignore what Baby Reindeer does to shine a light on male sexual assault survivors.

If you were also shaken by how difficult to watch Baby Reindeer turned out to be, you’re not alone. You can find me at @misssharai to talk about the show’s nuances.

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