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Netflix CEO Says Dave Chappelle’s Special Doesn’t Cross “The Line on Hate” in Internal Memo

Separately, a trans employee who publicly spoke up against the special was suspended for attending a meeting without permission

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dave chappelle netflix ceo internal memo Daphne Dorma farmily
Dave Chappelle (Netflix)

    Last week, Dave Chappelle drew backlash for continuing his pattern of making derogatory jokes about transgender people in his Netflix special The Closer, but for now the streamer’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos is standing by his cash cow.

    In an internal memo obtained by Variety, Sarandos vowed not to pull the special from Netflix, citing creative freedom. He also stated that the stand-up special doesn’t cross the company’s “line on hate” and delineated the “different standard of speech” that applies to stand-up compared to what is allowed internally.

    “Chapelle is one of the most popular stand-up comedians today, and we have a long standing deal with him,” wrote Sarandos. “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.”

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    Seemingly addressing internal criticism about the special, Sarandos defended The Closer for making social commentary. “Several of you have also asked where we draw the line on hate,” he said. “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.”

    This statement stands in stark contrast to criticism from organizations like the National Black Justice Coalition, which last week called for the streamer to pull the special. “With 2021 on track to be the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the United States — the majority of whom are Black transgender people — Netflix should know better,” NBJC executive director David Johns wrote in a statement. “Perpetuating transphobia perpetuates violence. Netflix should immediately pull The Closer from its platform and directly apologize to the transgender community.”

    Sarandos also addressed the different standards between artistic freedom and protecting employees in the workplace. “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,” he said.

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    Read Sarandos’ full memo (via Variety) below the jump.

    It appears the memo wasn’t a satisfactory response for some Netflix employees. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the streamer has suspended three employees — including a trans engineer named Terra Field who posted a viral Twitter thread speaking up against the special —  after they attempted to join a quarterly meeting meant only for directors or vice presidents.

    “It is absolutely untrue to say that we have suspended any employees for tweeting about this show,” a Netflix spokesperson told THR. “Our employees are encouraged to disagree openly and we support their right to do so.”

    For what it’s worth, the family of Daphne Dorman, the late transgender comedian mentioned by Chappelle in The Closer, has spoken out in Chappelle’s defense. In a text message sent to The Daily Beast, Dorman’s younger sister Brandy called Chappelle “an LGBTQ ally.”

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    “Daphne was in awe of Dave’s graciousness,” added Dorman’s sister Becky. “She did not find his jokes rude, crude, off-coloring, off-putting, anything. She thought his jokes were funny. Daphne understood humor and comedy — she was not offended. Why would her family be offended?”

    Back in August 2019, Dorman spoke out on Chappelle’s behalf via Twitter. “Punching down requires you to consider yourself superior to another group,” she wrote. “He doesn’t consider himself better than me in any way. He isn’t punching up or punching down. He’s punching lines. That’s his job and he’s a master of his craft.”

    Here’s Sarandos’ full memo from Friday:

    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.

    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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