Home » Fiona Harvey sues Netflix over ‘Baby Reindeer’ Martha character

Fiona Harvey sues Netflix over ‘Baby Reindeer’ Martha character

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A woman who says she was identified online as the basis for the character of a stalker in the popular Netflix series “Baby Reindeer” is suing the streamer and the show’s creator. She is seeking $170 million over a portrayal she says was inaccurate and distressing.

Fiona Harvey said viewers of the show identified her as the basis for the character Martha, who becomes obsessed with the protagonist, Donny, a character based on and played by the show’s creator, Richard Gadd.

“Baby Reindeer” is a tense, darkly comedic drama set in London that explores themes of vulnerability and confronting and recovering from abuse. It became an unlikely hit for Netflix, pulling in rave reviews and remaining in its global top 10 for most watched shows two months after its April release.

The first episode tells viewers early that “this is a true story.”

The show depicts Martha regularly spending long hours outside Donny’s home, contacting him repeatedly and committing sexual and physical assault.

These events did not happen in real life, the complaint says. Martha is a convicted stalker, but Harvey does not have a criminal record, it says, providing as evidence a photo of a U.K. government certificate and a background check that appear to support that. The complaint does confirm that Harvey had been a patron of the bar where Gadd worked.

The lawsuit says Harvey was identified as Martha in a “matter of days” because she had tweeted an expression in 2014, tagging Gadd, that was used by the characters in the show as a sexual innuendo.

Internet sleuths noticed Harvey was similar to Martha in age, job and nationality. “The press in London began to contact Harvey, and the hatred towards Harvey on Internet forums such as Reddit and TikTok reached extreme levels including death threats,” the complaint says, adding that she received calls and a torrent of messages from strangers.

She has been “tormented” by the negative attention and become fearful of going out in public, it says.

Harvey is “an innocent woman defamed by Netflix and Richard Gadd at a magnitude and scale without precedent,” the complaint adds.

In an email, Netflix said it intends “to defend this matter vigorously and to stand by Richard Gadd’s right to tell his story.” Gadd’s representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Harvey became more widely known as the woman who could be behind Martha when she was interviewed by Piers Morgan last month about “Baby Reindeer” and the online abuse. She told the British broadcaster she had sent “a couple of emails,” about 18 tweets tagging Gadd and one letter when they were “friends.”

She disputed Gadd’s claim that the woman Martha is based on sent him more than 40,000 emails, 350 hours of voice mail, 744 tweets, 46 Facebook messages across four fake accounts and 106 pages of letters over three years.

The show has been a commercial and critical hit, but it has also prompted debate on the ethics of storytelling based on real people. A Netflix executive was questioned by a U.K. parliamentary committee over “Baby Reindeer” and the streamer’s duty-of-care standards. Gadd on Instagram asked viewers to stop trying to identify the real people behind his characters and cleared the name of a man who had been misidentified as a different character.

In April, Netflix succeeded in having a lawsuit thrown out that was brought by a man who said a character implicated in a death in the film “No Limit” was based on him. It also settled a defamation suit this week over the portrayal of a prosecutor named in “When They See Us,” a miniseries that depicts the story of five wrongly convicted Black and Latino teenagers who came to be known as the Central Park Five.

Harvey is seeking a jury trial in federal court in California.

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