Netflix has doubled-down on its defense of Dave Chappelle and his latest comedy special, The Closer, which has angered equality groups and Netflix employees for its controversial jokes about race and the LGBTQ+ community. The company’s fumbled response to the backlash continued on Monday, when Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos issued a company-wide memo claiming content doesn’t influence real-life actions.
“We know that a number of you have been left angry, disappointed and hurt by your decision to put Dave Chappelle’s latest special on Netflix,” Sarandos wrote in an email (obtained via Variety). “With The Closer, we understand that the concern is not about offensive-to-some content but titles which could increase real world harm (such as further marginalizing already marginalized groups, hate, violence etc.) Last year, we heard similar concerns about 365 Days and violence against women. While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”
Sarandos continued his defense by citing declining numbers of “violent crime” in some countries, without providing any figures. “The strongest evidence to support this is that violence on screens has grown hugely over the last thirty years, especially with first party shooter games, and yet violent crime has fallen significantly in many countries,” his memo read. “Adults can watch violence, assault and abuse – or enjoy shocking stand-up comedy – without it causing them to harm others.”
He ended the memo by promising that Netflix is “working hard to ensure marginalized communities aren’t defined by a single story,” referencing titles on the streamer including Orange is the New Black, Sex Education, and Hannah Gadsby’s comedy special Nanette as proof of those efforts. “Our hope is that you can be hugely inspired by entertaining the world, while also living with titles you strongly believe have no place on Netflix,” he concluded. “This will not be the last title that causes some of you to wonder if you can still love Netflix. I sincerely hope that you can.”
But Sarandos’s latest memo, following an October 8 note about “artistic freedom,” has only stoked internal opposition to the Netflix special. Terra Field, an openly trans senior software engineer at Netflix who was recently reinstated in her role, tweeted in response: “You can’t buy carbon offsets for bigotry. There is no cap and trade for hatred. You cannot trash our community one moment and then complain when we don’t thank you for the scraps you give us.” Last week, Field and two other employees were suspended for attending a quarterly business review uninvited. (Netflix has maintained that Field’s viral Twitter thread condemning Chappelle’s special didn’t factor into the suspension.)
When asked for comment by Variety, GLAAD responded to Sarandos’s new memo, arguing that the organization owes its existence to the fact that “media representation has consequences for LGBTQ people.” The statement continues, “Authentic media stories about LGBTQ lives have been cited as directly responsible for increasing public support for issues like marriage equality. But film and TV have also been filled with stereotypes and misinformation about us for decades, leading to real world harm, especially for trans people and LGBTQ people of color. Ironically, the documentary Disclosure on Netflix demonstrates this quite clearly.”
A Netflix trans employee resource group is staging a company-wide walkout on October 20, largely due to Sarandos’s statements, a current employee told The Hollywood Reporter. “The memo was very disrespectful,” the anonymous staffer said. “It didn’t invite robust conversation about this hard topic, and that’s normally how things go.” According to the insider, about one thousand trans employees and allies are set to walkout next Wednesday, using their time away from work for donating to charities and platforming content that supports the trans community.
New reporting from Bloomberg suggests this all could’ve been avoided. Multiple Netflix employees reportedly raised concerns about The Closer ahead of its release, the publication wrote, saying “that a series of jokes about gender-neutral pronouns and the genitalia of transgender people was potentially inflammatory and damaging.”
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