The Controversies Around Netflix’s Baby Reindeer , Explained

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Baby Reindeer, Netflix’s limited series that debuted in April, found a large audience through its purportedly true story of creator Richard Gadd’s experience with an obsessed stalker. But just as quickly as it dominated the streaming charts, the show has since become mired in multiple controversies, including a $170 million defamation lawsuit over its core premise and Gadd’s own alleged impropriety of dating a transgender actor during her audition process. (The role ultimately went to a different trans actress, Nava Mau.)

The situation has gotten so intense that even the BBC — which was not itself involved in Baby Reindeer’s production — is now facing increasing scrutiny over its own ostensibly factual dramas in production. There’s a lot to keep track of as the fallout from this show spreads, so we’ve assembled the key developments so far below.

What is Baby Reindeer?

Warning: spoilers ahead.

Originally written as a stage play for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by Scottish writer and comedian Richard Gadd, Baby Reindeer tells the story — which, according to the show’s opening text, is based on true events from Gadd’s life — of Donny’s (Gadd) ill-fated meeting with a woman named Martha (Jessica Gunning) while working as a bartender. After Donny gives Martha a drink for free, Martha becomes obsessed with him, sexually assaulting him in the show’s second episode and later bombarding him with phone calls, attacking his friends, and harassing his parents with false claims of child abuse. Eventually, Martha is arrested, but not before her stalking leads Donny to have a mental breakdown that ruins his burgeoning relationship with Teri (Mau), a therapist and trans woman who helps Donny confront his own bisexuality.

The Netflix series ranked as one of the top 10 streaming shows for the month of April, according to The Hollywood Reporter, and quickly garnered buzz for its dark, violent themes — but also attracted criticism early on for its allegedly fatphobic depiction of Martha. As it turned out, that was actually the mildest type of criticism Gadd’s brainchild would face in the weeks to come.

What did trans actress Reece Lyons allege about her casting experience?

In a series of posts on X (formerly Twitter) on April 16, five days after Baby Reindeer premiered, actress Reece Lyons made a series of allegations without naming Gadd directly, but which were later confirmed by Deadline to be about him. Lyons alleged that during pre-production on Baby Reindeer, Gadd — who had recently followed her on Instagram — approached her in a bar and pushed her to audition for the role of Teri (whom he admitted was based on an ex-girlfriend), while simultaneously telling Lyons he found her “really attractive” and pursuing a romance. Lyons said the two entered a rocky off-and-on relationship that, while not abusive, was still toxic and rested on Gadd’s power over her, spanning the entire audition process until Gadd told her that Netflix was looking for someone who was “already a star” to play Teri.

Gadd was “highly defensive and dismissive” toward any criticism, Lyons wrote, including her concerns that he had “a tendency to fetishize trans women.” She pursued the relationship in part because she feared that if she didn’t, the audition and the career opportunity it represented would be closed to her. Gadd, she said, “gaslighted me” and refused to accept responsibility.

“People unconsciously recreate traumas that have happened to themselves in the past in an attempt to resolve those emotional wounds now,” Lyons wrote at the time, encouraging other actors to set firm boundaries if they found themselves in similar situations. “It’s easy to think that if you do so, your opportunity of getting the role may be taken away [...] But believe me when I say, not getting the role might just end up being the best thing that ever happened to you,” she concluded.

Clerkenwell Films, which produced Baby Reindeer, investigated Lyons’ allegations privately, according to Deadline. Although Gadd did not disclose his romantic relationship with Lyons during production, the company determined that Gadd’s conduct was not unprofessional and had not undermined the casting process.

Why was Baby Reindeer hit with a $170 Million defamation lawsuit?

In June, a Scottish woman named Fiona Harvey filed a lawsuit against Netflix in California, claiming defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, gross negligence, and violations of privacy. Harvey claimed that the character of Martha was based on her limited interactions with Gadd, but that she was neither a stalker nor a sexual predator as Baby Reindeer portrayed her to be — and Netflix, she continued, had made no serious attempt to disguise “Martha’s” true identity.

“Defendants told these lies, and never stopped, because it was a better story than the truth, and better stories made money,” the lawsuit alleges, according to Sky News. “As a result of defendants’ lies, malfeasance and utterly reckless misconduct, Harvey’s life had been ruined.”

The lawsuit, which does not name Gadd himself as a defendant, claims that Baby Reindeer spread “brutal lies” about Harvey, such as claims that she was a twice-convicted stalker. In fact, Benjamin King — Netflix’s Head of Public Policy for the U.K. and Ireland — told Parliament in May that Baby Reindeer was “obviously a true story of the horrific abuse that the writer and protagonist Richard Gadd suffered at the hands of a convicted stalker.” U.K. journalists were unable to verify King’s allegation.

Harvey denied that she had ever been charged with a crime, or indeed had ever pursued Gadd in the way the show claimed, in an interview with Piers Morgan last month (though she has since denounced Morgan as well). She also claimed that she was forced to reveal herself as the inspiration for Martha after receiving numerous death threats from anonymous internet detectives who managed to piece together her identity based on clues from the Netflix show, which she said even used real quotes from text messages she shared with Gadd years prior. (In a red-carpet interview with Entertainment Weekly, Mau said the Baby Reindeer cast had “decided not to watch” Harvey’s interview.)

Will the defamation suit impact the show?

Harvey’s litigation is still ongoing, but it’s already resulted in possible consequences for projects similar to Baby Reindeer in the U.K. and Ireland. Deadline reported in June that the BBC has received a wave of “duty of care” compliance requests, targeted at “factual dramas” such as the forthcoming Channel 3 series Kidnapped. In the U.K., defamation and related charges are governed by libel laws far stricter than those in the U.S., which prevent media outlets from identifying many people who have been accused or charged with crimes.

Netflix, in the meantime, seems to have no intention of backing down. “We intend to defend this matter vigorously and to stand by Richard Gadd’s right to tell his story,” a spokesperson for the streamer told Sky News in June.

Note: This story has been corrected from an earlier version that misidentified actress Reece Lyons as Renee Lyons. We regret the error.

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