Netflix Boss Defends Dave Chappelle: The Closer Not Designed to Incite Hate or Violence

In an October 8 memo sent to employees, Netflix’s co-chief executive officer and chief content officer Ted Sarandos defended the controversial release of Dave Chappelle’s new stand-up comedy special “The Closer” (read IndieWire’s review here). Netflix released “The Closer” via streaming on October 5. Chappelle has come under fire since the special’s release for making homophobic and anti-trans jokes. Organizations such as GLAAD and The National Black Justice Coalition condemned “The Closer” and urged Netflix to pull the special from its platform.

“Chapelle is one of the most popular stand-up comedians today, and we have a long standing deal with him. His last special ‘Sticks & Stones,’ also controversial, is our most watched, stickiest. and most award winning stand-up special to date,” Sarandos wrote in the memo (via Variety). “As with our other talent, we work hard to support their creative freedom — even though this means there will always be content on Netflix some people believe is harmful.”

Sarandos named several series that generated backlash and controversy following their streaming debuts, including Sundance hit “Cuties” (which ignited national backlash as many slammed it over the “hypersexualization of children”), the sexually explicit “365 Days,” and “13 Reasons Why,” the high school drama that featured a graphic depiction of teen suicide.

“Several of you have also asked where we draw the line on hate,” Sarandos continued in the memo. “We don’t allow titles Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe ‘The Closer’ crosses that line. 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.”

Chappelle already had a history of filling his Netflix specials with offensive transgender jokes prior to the release of “The Closer” this month. At one point during his new special, the comedian declares himself “team TERF” (meaning a trans-exclusionary radical feminist) while saying J.K. Rowling doesn’t deserve to be “canceled” for her anti-trans beliefs.

“Gender is a fact,” Chappelle says in the special. “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. Now, I am not saying that to say trans women aren’t women, I am just saying that those pussies that they got… you know what I mean? I’m not saying it’s not pussy, but it’s Beyond Pussy or Impossible Pussy. It tastes like pussy, but that’s not quite what it is, is it? That’s not blood. That’s beet juice.”

“The Closer” prompted the following response from GLAAD on social media: “Dave Chappelle’s brand has become synonymous with ridiculing trans people and other marginalized communities. Negative reviews and viewers loudly condemning his latest special is a message to the industry that audiences don’t support platforming anti-LGBTQ diatribes. We agree.”

Variety published Sarandos’ memo ahead of revealing three Netflix staff members were suspended after crashing Netflix’s “QBR,” a two-day quarterly business review that brings together the 500 top employees at the streaming giant. One of the suspended employees is Terra Field, a senior software engineer who is openly trans. Field used social media to speak out against Chappelle’s “The Closer.”

Head over to Variety’s website to read Sarandos’ interview in its entirety.

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