Turkey’s streaming platform BluTV continues to make headlines with its provocative original content. After the documentaries Pavyon and Digital Dating comes Naked (Çıplak), a fictional series about a 24-year-old sex worker in Istanbul. While BluTV’s promotional material has heralded the show as groundbreaking and “bold,” it is not yet clear whether Naked truly allows for a new kind of women’s narrative in Turkish TV or reproduces clichés.     

Can Evrenol, the main figure of genre film in Turkey, directed Naked. He wrote the script along with Merve Göntem. The 8-episode mini-series was shot on an iPhone 11 Pro Max, making it the first of its kind locally. The series followed the life of Eylül (Müge Bayramoğlu) who works in a supermarket by day, moonlights as an escort, and lives with her grandmother. 

The first episode provides us with a window into one of Eylül’s character and one of her typical days. We see her walking from the Fish Market in Kadıköy up toward the Moda coast wearing a black hoody and tights, a leather jacket, white sneakers, and bright pink headphones. She reaches her destination: an apartment where a group of men are celebrating a bachelor’s party. She has been hired to entertain and dance for them, as well as perform sexual acts for additional money.

The show is stylish, from the costumes to the soundtrack. The show features many of the brightest lights of Turkish indie music (alt pop queens Ekin Beril and Nova Norda, ironic goths Jakuzi). Similarly, the social milieu represented in the show is firmly middle class and more than a bit hipster. Eylül is certainly not, but she has the education and cultural references to keep up with society’s privileged. Her goal is to leave Turkey: she is escorting to save enough money to move to Wales.

This kind of middle-class sex worker narrative differs from what Turkish viewers are used to. Eylül is not the melancholy konsomatris singing songs for the audience in 1960s Yeşilçam films. Nor is she the stereotypical Greek prostitute (Müjde Ar) in Ağır Roman, or the working woman frequenting seedy hotels (Vildan Atasever) in Zeki Demirkubuz’s Kader, or the Eastern European ‘working women’ in Behzat Ç. Instead, Naked is more line with recent series coming out of Europe and North America: The Girlfriend Experience, You Me Her, and Baby. These shows mostly steer away from melodrama and trite stock characters like the ‘home-wrecker’ or the ‘prostitute with a heart of gold’ to focus on the very understandable motivations that bring people to engage in sex work.  

Yet just because Naked moves beyond certain stereotypes does not necessarily make it “Turkey’s boldest woman’s story,” as BluTV has proudly declared in promoting the series. In fact, many have criticized how the streaming platform has presented the show. Not only does it overlook the important work of directors like Pelin Esmer, Ceylan Özgün Özçelik, Yeşim Ustaoğlu. It also equates the simple portraying of sexuality with realism regarding women’s lives. If including nudity or sex scenes was a barometer of political progressiveness, then the Turkish porno craze of the 1970s or the dirty programs watched through satellite TV in the 1990s would be perfect models of feminism. Clearly that is not the case. 

Another important thing to note is that Naked’s director and co-writer Evrenol has recently came under fire for sexism. In April, Evrenol reposted a short video that he previously released as promotional content for the horror/gore film festival Frightfest. Entitled “The Pencil – Turn Off Your Bloody Phone,” the video shows a woman brutally murdered and raped in a movie theater for not silencing her phone. On Twitter, Haziran Düzkan and others active both in film/TV and feminism rightly questioned the political significance of this kind of portrayal of rape as “humor.” Evrenol’s dismissive and even insulting responses to his critics lead to a wide-ranging debate about sexism, rape culture, and male fragility. 

But judging the series on its own merits, what Naked does seem to get right, however, is a balanced tone regarding sex work. At least in the first two episodes released so far, it is clear that what Eylül does when she has sex with customers is work, just as boring and no more salacious than working in a supermarket. We see this when she is in the elevator heading up to the bachelor’s party. Eylül is clearly tired from what has already been a long day. Nevertheless, she looks into the elevator mirror and puts on lip gloss. Her normal facial expression changes as she blows herself a flirtatious kiss: it is now time to perform femininity, the same way would one performs friendliness by smiling at customers in a shop. She then gives a short, deep sigh: another day on the job.

Yet there are already signals that the series might lose this even-handedness as the episodes progress. It seems that Eylül will fall in love with one of her customers, a successful young man just about to marry into a well-connected family. We will have to see where the story goes, but if Naked sets up a contradiction between what should be Eylül’s freedom to work as she chooses and her freedom to form (or not) a romantic relationship, this will be problematic. Work and love need not offset each other, no matter the profession. Let us hope Naked will not be another redemption narrative where true love inspires the fallen woman to leave behind her wayward life.      

The problem with these narratives of the sex worker being saved by love is that they rely on a false idea of authenticity. According to this view, sex for money merely simulates feelings while ‘normal’ relationships are based on real emotions. Yet is clear both that money is all-to-real a factor in dating and marriage while there is also no reason the payment of money for sex makes the pleasure gained or emotions felt any less real.

What would make Naked truly bold is to smash this split between “real love” and “sex work” and instead portray the gray areas and rich contradictions that give our lives reality.