The latest Netflix stand-up from Dave Chapelle brings up some important questions about the company’s integrity.
Dave Chappelle’s recent Netflix comedy stand-up set, The Closer, was released on October 5th and quickly became one of the most -watched specials. However, the jokes on LGBTQ+ came into question from many audience members and Netflix internal members. These same people who called out Netflix to take down the comedy piece were met with some hostility and resistance. Netflix’s software engineer, Terra Field, was one of the members who advocated for the company to think about the harm of what Chappelle’s words have to LGBTQ+ groups, especially the trans community. Field emphasizes the phrase, “We are not offended”, in their initial post on Twitter about their thoughts on Chappelle’s performance.
As the tweet went viral, Netflix suspended Field and two other employees for attempting to join a director-level meeting they weren’t requested to show up. It’s not clear what was said at the meeting or what the exact details of the situation was, but it was reported that another trans employee quit over how the comedy special will remain on the streaming service and how Field’s Twitter posts were dealt with.
Netflix co-CEO, Ted Sarandos, responded to the conversations involving The Closer, “Several of you have also asked where we draw the line on hate. We don’t allow titles on Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe The Closer crosses that line…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.” Sarandos offered this response to the growing concerns on Chappelle’s comedy material, but it was quite ambiguous to understand what was being said — particularly the part on “where [Netflix] draws the line on hate.”
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the National Black Justice Coalition called out the confusing comments on the boundaries of hate. GLAAD commented on Twitter, “Dave Chappelle’s brand has become synonymous with ridiculing trans people and other marginalized communities.” Then, the National Black Justice Coalition told Variety, “Perpetuating transphobia perpetuates violence. Netflix should immediately pull The Closer from its platform and directly apologize to the transgender community.”
Chappelle commented at his stand-up set at the popular Los Angeles stage, Hollywood Bowl, where he didn’t repeat the same jokes that many of the previously mentioned groups called out. But he responded, “If this is what being cancelled is like, I love it…F— Twitter. F— NBC News, ABC News, all these stupid a— networks. I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to you. This is real life.” It seems like Chappelle says what they want to say and whether it incites hate speech or not, it will continue as Netflix will continue showcasing these comedy episodes for the majority of people who enjoy the content.
Here’s the full internal email from Sarandos:
“I wanted to follow up on The Closer — Dave Chappelle’s latest special — as several of you have reached out following QBR asking what to say to your teams. It never feels good when people are hurting, especially our colleagues, so I wanted to give you some additional context. 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.
Chappelle 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. 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, like Cuties, 365 Days, 13 Reasons Why, or My Unorthodox Life.
Several of you have also asked where we draw the line on hate. We don’t allow titles on 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.
In terms of our commitment to inclusion, we’re working hard to ensure more people see their lives reflected on screen and that under-represented communities are not defined by the single story. So we’re proud of titles like Sex Education, Young Royals, Control Z and Disclosure. Externally, particularly in stand-up comedy, artistic freedom is obviously a very different standard of speech than we allow internally as the goals are different: entertaining people versus maintaining a respectful, productive workplace.
Today’s conversation on Entertain the World was timely. These are hard and uncomfortable issues. We all bring different values and perspectives so thank you for being part of the conversation as it’s important we’re clear about our operating principles.