Netflix is denying that it suspended an employee for calling the jokes in Dave Chappelle's latest special harmful, with the head of the media giant offering a defense of the content against critics who call it transphobic.
The three employees, including senior software engineer Terra Field, were said to have been suspended for attending a meeting among company leaders that they weren't invited to, a source close to the situation told ITK on Monday.
Field was one of many critics of "The Closer," Chappelle's special that debuted last week.
Using crude terms to refer to a transgender person's anatomy, Chappelle says in the show, "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."
His words were condemned by GLAAD, while the National Black Justice Coalition, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, urged Netflix to remove "The Closer," saying the streaming service "should know better."
In a series of tweets last week, Field, a transgender Netflix employee, blasted Chappelle's material.
"What we object to is the harm that content like this does to the trans community (especially trans people of color) and VERY specifically Black trans women," she said.
I work at @netflix. Yesterday we launched another Chappelle special where he attacks the trans community, and the very validity of transness - all while trying to pit us against other marginalized groups. You're going to hear a lot of talk about "offense".— Terra Fied (@RainofTerra) October 7, 2021
We are not offended
A Netflix spokesperson told ITK in a statement that it is "absolutely untrue" that any employees were suspended for tweeting about Chappelle's program.
"Our employees are encouraged to disagree openly and we support their right to do so," the spokesperson said.
In a memo issued Friday and obtained by Variety, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos defended airing the special, saying stand-up comedy "exists to push boundaries."
"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 said, listing other controversial projects such as "13 Reasons Why" and "Cuties."
"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," he added, writing that "distinguishing between commentary and harm is hard."
"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 said.
The Netflix exec said the company has a "commitment to inclusion," writing that "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."
Sarandos predicted that other entertainers "may join third parties in asking us to remove the show in the coming days, which we are not going to do."
The Netflix spokesperson declined to comment about Sarandos's memo.
Chappelle, 48, appeared to embrace the firestorm over his transphobic remarks. During an appearance at last week's Hollywood Bowl, he reportedly told the crowd, "If this is what being canceled is like, I love it."