Chappelle/Netflix Update: Streamer Further Defends The Closer Decision

Update IV: The back-and-forth in the continuing controversy surrounding comments made by comedian Dave Chappelle in his latest Netflix special, The Closer. Earlier today, the Los Angeles Times reported that Transgender Netflix employees and ally co-workers had scheduled a staged walkout for next Wednesday, October 20, in response to Chappelle's comments. Now, Variety is reporting exclusively that Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos is doubling down on the streamer's decision to keep the special on the service in an email sent out on Monday to the entire staff- here's a look:

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Image: Screencap

"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. Also, we have many new colleagues who want to better understand the principles that guide our team's content choices, especially with challenging titles like this.

Our goal is to entertain the world, which means programming for a diversity of tastes. This member-centric view has driven our growth over the last 20 years, despite all the competition, and remains Netflix's north star today. We also support artistic freedom to help attract the best creators, and push back on government and other censorship requests. Our Entertain the World and Strategy Bets memos, which we've debated extensively, are clear about both principles – including the trade offs, i.e. that we'll always have titles some members and employees dislike or believe are harmful.

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.) 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.

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. We are working hard to ensure marginalized communities aren't defined by a single story. So we have Sex Education, Orange is the New Black, Control Z,' Hannah Gadsby and Dave Chappelle all on Netflix. Key to this is increasing diversity on the content team itself.

In his special, Chappelle makes harsh jokes about many different groups, which is his style and a reason his fans love his comedy and commentary. Stand-up comedians often expose issues that are uncomfortable because the art by nature is a highly provocative. As a leadership team, we do not believe that The Closer is intended to incite hatred or violence against anyone (per our Sensitive Content guidelines).

We've had these operating principles around pleasing our members and artistic expression for many years, and the team's decision to put The Closer on our service was consistent with them. The variety and quality of our content is what members value most. Our hope is that you can be hugely inspired by entertaining the world, while also living with titles you strongly believe have no place on Netflix. This will not be the last title that causes some of you to wonder if you can still love Netflix. I sincerely hope that you can."

Original Report: Last week, we reported on how Dave Chappelle was facing backlash for comments he made during his recent Netflix stand-up special The Closer. Many on social media & within the LGBTQ+ community as well a number of LGBTQ+-supporting organizations (GLAAD, National Black Justice Coalition & others) are demanding that the streaming service pull the special over what they say were hate-filled comments meant to attack the trans community and others. But based on a memo reportedly from Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos that was sent to staff on Friday (and obtained by Variety), the special and Chappelle aren't going anywhere.

"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. 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," Sarandos reportedly wrote, arguing the importance of artistic freedom in making the decision. "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." Here's a look at the full text of the email reportedly sent:

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Image: Screencap

I wanted to follow-up on the "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.

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. 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 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.

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About Ray Flook

Serving as Television Editor since 2018, Ray began five years earlier as a contributing writer/photographer before being brought onto the core BC team in 2017.
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