There are countless articles on the internet (including on this site) about the so-called “hidden categories” of Netflix’s catalog and while they do uncover titles buried in the Netflix library, some regions of Netflix have hidden libraries that can’t be uncovered using codes or searches. The hidden library has caused controversy in recent weeks so let’s dig into what the hidden library is and why there is one.
Recently, the Palestinian film Farha made the headlines because its worldwide availability on Netflix sparked controversy in Israel and in some parts of the world because it shows a Palestinian point of view of the 1948 exodus of Palestinian after the creation of the state of Israel.
In France however, the film sparked a different controversy around its non-availability on Netflix in France.
Dites @NetflixFR , il y a un film palestinien #Farha , qui était censé être diffusé sur TOUTES vos plateformes (sortie mondiale annoncée pour le 1er/12). Pourquoi n’est-il pas diffusé en France? Une histoire de pression/boycott ou …? pic.twitter.com/xYjf3LnX1E
— Rania (@PlatsPalestine) December 2, 2022
And it is true. If you’re a French Netflix user, Farha is not playable and you can only add it to your list for when it will become available.
Some conspiracy theories arose, such as pressure from Israel but the reason why it’s unavailable is much more mundane and touches upon how Netflix operates its service in France.
Fahra is available worldwide on Netflix but only with Arabic and English subtitles. And if your preferred language for Netflix is French, the film won’t show in the catalog. This issue extends to over languages too.
On my French Netflix account, once I change the language of my interface to English, “Farha” appears and is watchable.
Back in July, Netflix announced that they launched a new collection of 21 films directed by female filmmakers from the Arab world.
In France, you can only access one of these 21 films if your service is in French and if you switch to English and you now have access to 8 films.
The other ones might be locked due to territorial rights in France, but still, it is quite a large portion of the collection that is unavailable due to one little setting within your account. Another example of that is the Netflix Original Columbian series The Unbroken Voice which managed to reach the number 1 spot of the most viewed international series in the world last week. But that series is also not available on Netflix France unless you turn on English as the language of your interface.
Following the outcry over Fahra, Netflix France issued a statement to Allocine (translated to English) that reads:
“We present to our sbuscribers personalized recommandations based on various factors such as taste clusters, device used, watching history… One of the important criteria is the preferred language of the subscriber. When a film or a series has no audio track or subtitles in the preferred language of the subscriber, the title is considered as non-pertinent and therefore is unavailable. That’s the case for “Fahra” and all you need to do is to switch your account to English and the title becomes available. This is not an isolated case. In fact, several unavailable programs with no French audio track or subtitles are in the same situation”.
So it makes you wonder how deep that hidden catalog and, to be honest, that’s quite impossible to know since no website has tried to list the hidden content but some films tend to not be available more than others. Films from India and the Middle East, for example, are mostly unavailable unless you switch your language, films from Poland also and some from Latin America, but also some series from Scandinavian countries, Australia, the US, and Canada such as “Kim’s Convenience”.
Global streaming services have different approaches. Amazon Prime Video, for example, shows every film available, regardless those have French audio or subtitles. That creates situations in which you launch an Indian film when the only subtitles available are Hindi and you just can’t understand what you’re watching if you’re not fluent enough in that language. So it makes sense, in a way, for Netflix to hide titles that it presumes you won’t be able to understand.
There’s an easy fix to that problem though. In the settings of your account, there are two different language selections that you can make:
The first one is the display language. That’s the one that unlocks the hidden catalog of Netflix if your language is not set on English. The second one is “Shows and Movies languages” where you can select languages you are more comfortable with and that you would prefer to choose from when watching a program. The easy fix would be to unlock the hidden catalog based on your preferences on that second menu. If you select “English” as one of the languages you would like to watch shows in, the system should offer you films and series that are only available in that language, regardless of the language you chose as your default language for the service.
There’s one more mystery to solve. The way Netflix France explains why “Fahra” is unavailable seems to be an exception. If I switch my French Netflix account to Spanish, the film is available even if there is no Spanish audio track or Spanish subtitles.
But that’s another mystery for another day.