Netflix came under criticism last year when international fans of streaming content noticed that an episode of the company’s political commentary series Patriot Act With Hisan Minhaj had gone missing from the show’s streaming roster in Saudi Arabia—specifically, the one criticizing the Saudi Arabian government. When asked about the decision to pull the episode at the government’s request late last year, company CEO Reed Hastings was bluntly pragmatic in his response, noting that Netflix is “Not trying to do ‘Truth to power,’” and that the company is “Trying to entertain.” (Chief content officer Ted Sarandos later did his best to dial that “Hey, fuck you” energy from his boss back a bit, noting that “I think all entertainment is truth to power—all creative expression is truth to power. Stand-up comedy is certainly truth to power. A lot of great films have changed the course of history.”)
Now the streamer has gone a little further in its efforts to make its willingness to give a hearty “Yes sir!” to the whims of the planet’s various regimes more transparent, releasing a report today (the 2019 Environmental Social Governance report), which among other things, lists the 9 shows and films it’s pulled at government request during its time of operation, including the episode of Patriot Act. Per Variety, fully five of those entries come straight from Singapore, whose government enjoyed neither pot-based material (Disjointed, Cooking On High, and The Legend Of 420), or material making light of Jesus (The Last Hangover, or Martin Scorsese’s classic Christian pisser-offer, The Last Temptation Of Christ). Meanwhile one request came from Germany, asking the company to abide by its decision to ban Night Of The Living Dead, while another came from the Vietnamese government, asking that Full Metal Jacket be pulled. (The last request, from New Zealand, was centered on The Bridge, a 2006 documentary about suicide attempts in San Francisco.)
The various standards for international censorship are, of course, ludicrously complex—one of several reasons Netflix has never managed to get a toehold in, say, the Chinese market. And the company has occasionally made a push back against government fiat, as when it appealed a decision to censor Brazilian comedy The First Temptation Of Jesus all the way to the country’s Supreme Court. But this list also doesn’t include any material that got censored before it was even posted, for instance, or which Netflix never bothered to try to get past a company’s government at all. (For example: The Last Temptation Of Christ is also banned in the Philippines; presumably the company never even tried to make it available there.) It’s one of those messy topics that’s not going to get any less messy as streaming continues to spread across the planet; these annual reports are a nice step toward transparency, but given the disconnect between how the company’s two most powerful figures have talked about the topic in recent months, it’s not clear whether the streamer has a dedicated policy on how to respond to these requests in place.