Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos doubled down on the network’s defense of Dave Chappelle in the face of complaints from the company’s transgender employees, and in a follow-up email to staff on Monday, pushed back against activists’ claims that Chappelle’s humor was the equivalent of real-world harm.
The all-staff email, which appeared in Variety on Thursday, reiterates the Network’s approach to Chappelle’s comedy special, “The Closer,” which became available to Netflix subscribers earlier this month. As The Daily Wire reported previously, Sarandos sent a memo to Netflix managers last Friday outlining Netflix’s decision to air the special and instructing Netflix supervisors on how to manage employees who complained about the controversial comedian’s content.
Transgender Netflix employees were particularly critical of Chappelle’s special, which includes a bit about transgenderism and biological reality.
“Several of you have also asked where we draw the line on hate. We don’t allow titles Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe The Closer crosses that line,” Sarandos wrote last week. “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.”
Three Netflix employees, including one outspoken, transgender, Chappelle critic, apparently crashed an executive phone call where Sarandos discussed the memo with managers. They were suspended pending an investigation but reinstated less than 24 hours later.
Sarandos has now issued a second memo, this time to all staff, again defending Chappelle’s program.
“We know that a number of you have been left angry, disappointed and hurt by our decision to put Dave Chappelle’s latest special on Netflix,” Sarandos said in his email.
“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.),” Sarandos noted in the email, published Thursday in Variety. “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.”
Instead, Sarandos said, Netflix viewers appear responsible and mature enough to watch controversial content without it spurring them to violent action.
“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. Adults can watch violence, assault and abuse – or enjoy shocking stand-up comedy – without it causing them to harm others,” Sarandos said.
GLAAD, which polices media content involving transgender individuals, disagreed, telling Variety that “film and TV have  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.”
Another transgender critic told the network that “Chappelle’s alleged jokes do not impact hypothetical people; they, in fact, cause real harm to transgender and nonbinary viewers and Black LGBTQ youth who may have once looked up to him as a role model.”
It is worth noting that Chappelle did not take on only transgender individuals in his standup special, but rather, in his typical style, saw no topic as off-limits.
Transgender employees are now expected to walk off the job at Netflix on October 20th to protest the network’s decision to air the special, according to The Hill.
“Some Netflix employees are reportedly planning on staging a walkout in protest of the streaming giant’s release of Dave Chappelle’s latest comedy special, which has been criticized for its transphobic material,” the outlet noted Wednesday. “Transgender employees and their supporters are organizing a walkout for Oct. 20.”
It is not clear how many transgender employees Netflix has, but the event is “open to all staffers [to] discuss the Chappelle special’s impact on the trans community.”