The head of Netflix is taking heat for repeatedly defending Dave Chappelle's controversial special, saying that the company believes that transphobic remarks by the comedian won't result in "real-world harm."
Ted Sarandos, the CEO of Netflix, sent a company-wide memo this week addressing the controversy over "The Closer," Variety reported on Wednesday.
“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 wrote, according to the trade publication.
“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,)" he said.
"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,” Sarandos said.
Sarandos's note comes amid backlash against Netflix for releasing Chappelle's special earlier this month.
Using crude terms to refer to a transgender person's anatomy, Chappelle said 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."
In response to Sarandos's Monday memo, GLAAD said in a statement that it was founded more than three decades ago "because media representation has consequences for LGBTQ people."
"Authentic media stories about LGBTQ lives have been cited as directly responsible for increasing public support for issues like marriage equality. But film and TV have also been filled with stereotypes and misinformation about us for decades, leading to real world harm, especially for trans people and LGBTQ people of color," the organization said.
"Ironically, the documentary 'Disclosure' on Netflix demonstrates this quite clearly," said the GLAAD statement.
Other critics, including writer Daniel José Older and Out Magazine, called out Sarandos for his remarks.
This is what half the kidlit world sounded like when we complained about smiling enslaved people in picture books. It's always "the awesome power of story" until a fave does harm and then suddenly stories have no power at all. Can't have it both ways. https://t.co/ebAq3bO6qG— Daniel José Older (@djolder) October 14, 2021
It's absolutely bewildering that Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos can say "we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm" when last year they released the Netflix Original @Disclosure_Doc, which included salient scenes like this. pic.twitter.com/a8A3FW6fxs— Out Magazine (@outmagazine) October 14, 2021
Terra Field, a transgender Netflix senior software engineer who made headlines for criticism of her company and Chappelle, tweeted:
I’ve said it before and I will say it again:— Terra Field (@RainofTerra) October 14, 2021
You can’t buy carbon offsets for bigotry. There is no cap and trade for hatred.
You cannot trash our community one moment and then complain when we don’t thank you for the scraps you give us. https://t.co/8D7FxuW7NK
A Netflix spokesperson declined to comment to ITK about Sarandos's latest memo.
It's not the first time that Sarandos came to Chappelle's defense over the special. In another note reportedly sent last week, he said, "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."
Hours before details of Sarandos's memo was published, the Los Angeles Times reported that some Netflix employees were planning a walkout next week to protest Chappelle's special.
"We support artistic expression for our creators. We also encourage our employees to disagree openly," a Netflix spokesperson told ITK in response to the walkout news.
Chappelle, 48, has remained mostly mum since "The Closer's" release but did make an appearance at the Hollywood Bowl earlier this month, reportedly telling the crowd, "If this is what being canceled is like, I love it."
—Updated at 10:53 a.m.