Byron Baes slammed by local residents who claim Netflix series is "offensive"
11 March 2022, 17:19 | Updated: 11 March 2022, 17:38
"I’m not anti-Netflix, and I’m not anti-influencer, I just don’t believe that your show is a true representation of the soul of Byron."
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On Wednesday (March 9), all eight episodes of Byron Baes dropped on Netflix. The show follows a number of influencers, fashion designers and photographers, who are all trying to make it in Byron Bay's cut-throat online scene. Cue the drama, backstabbing and messy love triangles.
But before the series even dropped, it had already received complaints from Byron Bay residents and local politicians who feared the series would taint the area's reputation. There were even protests and petitions against the show.
In April 2021, a number of surfers headed to the ocean to protest against the series. The surfers cleverly formed a circle with a line through it, which represented them saying "no" to the show. The surfers appeared to be made up of local residents who feared that the series would make a mockery of their idyllic town.
Former Byron Shire Mayor Simon Richardson said the show was "offensive" to the community. He told ABC: "We've almost got a Truman Show-type portrayal of who we are, where everything is quite idyllic and superficial, where out the back it's an empty parking lot.
"We've got a community that is in real stress, we've got a community that has real life issues dealing with housing, work, affordability. While we are here trying to deal with this as best we can, to have this pamphlet of an idea of who we are without any input by us. It's quite offensive."
Cafe owner Ben Gordon also told the publication that Netflix asked to film at his cafe but failed to offer a fee. Instead, Netflix promised exposure and marketing opportunities. "All the business owners need to realise is it's not good for your business," he explained.
"They will tout that it's going to be seen by millions of people and that it's free marketing but it's not good marketing and you don't want to be involved with that. This is a show that is targeted to 200 million Netflix subscribers in America about people who aren't actually from Byron. Anyone from Byron who represents Byron in an authentic way wouldn't be involved in this show. It's really low and Byron deserves better."
In an Instagram post, musician Billy Otto wrote: "I’m not anti-netflix, and I’m not anti-influencer, I just don’t believe that your show is a true representation of the soul of Byron. This program doesn’t align with my values – and the local Indigenous Elders and long standing community do not give their blessing for you to host this series."
He also revealed that he had been asked to be on the show, but declined: "I was asked from a media representative that there was a new show being filmed about interesting people living in Byron Bay. And I (like a copious amount of my friends in Byron) was asked if I was interested. I began to understand later the true nature of the program, and it became clear to me that I didn’t align with the ethos of the show.
"I don’t consider myself a Byron local, I don’t consider myself a 'hot instagrammer', and I don’t believe that the world needs a show like this right now. I’m not stoked about the heightening hyper-gentrification that would occur from a program of this nature."
He continued: "I would honestly love to see a platform like Netflix making a film series about the real stories of Byron, working alongside Bundjalung Elders and capturing the dreamers, creatives and custodians that help make this place special."
During filming last year, Netflix also found themselves in hot water for failing to consult local Indigenous groups or the Byron Council before they had started filming. The council feared that filming could potentially harm the local environment, hurt local businesses, and disrupt the lives of the community. A petition of 9,500 signatures was delivered to Byron Council requesting that they step in.
In a statement, Deputy Mayor Sarah Ndiaye told Echo: "The film industry brings a lot of rich diversity to our community and we have plenty of people working with a lot of integrity. This corporation, Netflix, has basically come in and shat on us. They haven’t got the community onside, they haven’t consulted council. They need to be put on notice. They have the resources to do things properly – probably more than anyone else does."
In response, Byron Council passed an urgency motion that required producers to get permission before any further filming.
However, despite the intense backlash the show has received, some of the Byron Baes cast insist the locals have been nothing but nice to them. In an interview with Nova FM's Smallzy's Surgery, Elias Black said: "There's definitely like a sense of localism and a bit of a clique there. I feel like a lot of the hype that that kind of it was a bit of a media sensation in terms of like the people that I know that from there and live there in the graph feel like they've all been super, super friendly and super welcoming."
Nathan Favro agreed, and said: "I don't think the actual animosity was actually directed towards any one cast member. It's more of like, someone's coming to exploit the beauty of Byron and I don't think it was that at all. But we don't really experience any shouting across the street."
Jessica Johansen Bell also said she wasn't worried about the criticism. She told Herald Sun: "My partner said to me multiple times, 'The town's going to lose it over this,' but they often protest a lot of things so I wasn't too concerned. I felt like the town would move on from it. It wasn't going to be a life-threatening situation. People might be angry about it and then see it, and maybe not be angry."
In a statement to The Age, Netflix's Director of Content in Australia and New Zealand Que Minh has said that the show had never intended to upset so many people and is only supposed to be a positive reflection on Byron Bay and its residents.
She explained: "[It’s aimed at building] a connection between the people we meet in the show and ourselves as the audience. People can find it easy to write off those who have influencer lifestyles and careers, but at the end of the day, aren’t we all curating our lives before we put them out on social media?"