Netflix CEO shuts down internal critics threatening walkout over Dave Chappelle: Stand-up comedy does not incite ‘real-world harm’

News & Politics

Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos is standing firm against internal pressure to pull stand-up comedian Dave Chappelle’s latest special from the video streaming service, arguing that “content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”

What are the details?

In a pair of internal memos issued over the past week, the executive shot down critics from within and outside the company who claim that the special, titled “The Closer,” should be removed for content they deem transphobic.

“You should also be aware that some talent may join third parties in asking us to remove the show in the coming days, which we are not going to do,” Sarandos said in an original memo to company leadership, obtained by Variety.

“I recognize, however, that distinguishing between commentary and harm is hard, especially with stand-up comedy which exists to push boundaries. Some people find the art of stand-up to be mean-spirited but our members enjoy it, and it’s an important part of our content offering,” he added.

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Then in a follow-up memo to all staff also obtained by Variety, he doubled down on the company’s position:

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. … In his special, Chappelle makes harsh jokes about many different groups, which is his style and a reason his fans love his comedy and commentary. Stand-up comedians often expose issues that are uncomfortable because the art by nature is a highly provocative. As a leadership team, we do not believe that The Closer is intended to incite hatred or violence against anyone (per our Sensitive Content guidelines).

Sarandos noted in the memo that “The Closer” is far from the first title the streaming service has hosted to contain content that may be considered offensive. He went on to list other titles such as “Sex Education,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Control Z,” and “Hannah Gadsby” as examples of other controversial features.

What’s the background?

In “The Closer” special, Chappelle, a firebrand comedian known for cutting and controversial jokes, sparked outrage by poking fun at transgender people’s “thin skin” and blasting the effects of “cancel culture.”

He also declared that “gender is a fact,” to the ire of transgender activists, adding, “Every human being in this room, every human being on earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on earth. That is a fact.”

Netflix’s hosting of the show immediately drew backlash from the LGBTQ community and those supportive of the community within the company.

Some employees — including a queer transgender one — decided to show their displeasure by crashing an executive meeting in protest. They were promptly removed and later suspended.

Others have threatened to stage a companywide walkout on Oct. 20 in protest, according to The Verge.

“Trans Lives Matter. Trans Rights Matter. And as an organization, Netflix has continually failed to show deep care in our mission to Entertain the World by repeatedly releasing content that harms the Trans community and continually failing to create content that represents and uplifts Trans content. We can and must do better!” a leader of the trans ERG reportedly wrote in an internal organizing message.

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