Netflix often gets congratulated for being a bastion of creative freedom, giving filmmakers and creators a chance to make whatever project they want, as long as it attracts eyeballs and subscribers. But sometimes that creative freedom can be seen as a bit of a problem, such as with the latest controversy with Dave Chappelle and his new comedy special, “The Closer,” which has caused outrage from folks that describe it as “transphobic.” But according to Netflix co-CEO, Ted Sarandos, the creative freedom of the streaming service goes both ways and protects folks like Chappelle.
Last week, after the premiere of “The Closer,” the LGBTQ+ community took to social media to show their disappointment that Netflix would promote and profit off of Chappelle’s new special where he says some transphobic comments. Those groups contend that Chappelle’s stand-up would help promote violence against LGBTQ+ people, particularly trans folks. This led to reports of multiple Netflix employees, including one trans person, crashing a meeting (which led to them getting suspended) to protest. Now, Ted Sarandos released a memo (via Variety), where he not only explains why Netflix released “The Closer,” but he also explains why the company won’t be removing it from its platform.
“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,” Sarandos said. “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.”
So, obviously, no matter what Netflix says about creative freedom, it’s clear that a large part of the company’s decision to keep “The Closer” on its platform is because subscribers like Chappelle and Sarandos and Co. spent a lot of money to make sure he is exclusive with them.
“Several of you have also asked where we draw the line on hate,” Sarandos continued. “We don’t allow titles Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe ‘The Closer’ crosses that line.”
He added, “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.”
So, there you have it, “artistic freedom” wins the day, according to Netflix. And it’ll be interesting to see how this stance on “The Closer” might affect the company’s relationship with talent moving forward. We already know the showrunner for “Dear White People” has vowed to never work with the studio again. And honestly, Netflix is far from the only streaming game in town. But hey, Netflix is the biggest, and you have to assume it will survive this latest controversy, too.
Here’s the full memo written by Sarandos:
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.
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 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 singe 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 principals.