Netflix's Co-CEO Dismisses Internal Complaints Over Dave Chappelle Special, Citing 'Artistic Freedom' In Comedy

Netflix Inc NFLX leaders have pushed back at criticism from within the company over allegedly homophobic comments in Dave Chappelle stand-up special, “The Closer” by claiming the comic’s material did not meet its definition of hate speech.

What Happened: Variety reported that co-CEO and Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos sent a memo to the Netflix managers with guidance on how to address the anger some employees felt over the Chappelle special.

“Chappelle is one of the most popular stand-up comedians today, and we have a long-standing deal with him,” Sarandos wrote, referring to the four-year, $20 million contract with the comic. “His last special ‘Sticks & Stones,’ also controversial, is our most watched, stickiest and most award winning stand-up special to date.”

Sarandos acknowledged questions on the company’s hate speech policy, and he insisted Netflix will not stream productions specifically designed to incite violence or hatred.

“We don’t believe ‘The Closer’ crosses that line,” he added. “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.”

Why It Happened: Since its Oct. 5 premiere, “The Closer” generated complaints from LGBTQ organizations and activists based on jokes Chappelle made about the gay rights movement in general and transgender people in particular. Netflix did not publicly acknowledge the complaints and Chappelle offered scatological dismissive remarks.

Last week, three junior-level Netflix staffers, including a transgender employee, were suspended for crashing a meeting of its top executives to complain about the Chappelle special. Sarandos did not address the three employees, but used his memo to repeat “our commitment to inclusion” while making a major exception for the company’s stand-up comedy shows.

“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 stated.

Photo: Netflix

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