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Netflix’s Ted Sarandos Defends Dave Chappelle Special in Staff Memo: ‘Artistic Freedom’ Is Different for Stand-Up

Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos has addressed staff members on the streamer’s controversial new Dave Chappelle stand-up special, “The Closer.”

The firebrand comedian has drawn criticism from the LGBTQ+ community in recent days over several jokes, specifically around the “thin skin” of trans people and the effects of so-called “cancel culture.”

In a Friday memo sent after Netflix’s quarterly business review, a two-day gathering of the top 500 employees at the company, Sarandos offered guidance on how managers should handle upset employees and angry talent speaking out against Chappelle. It was the same meeting crashed by three junior staffers, one of whom was an out trans person who was critical of Chappelle on Twitter last week. All three were suspended, an an investigation is pending.

“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 wrote in the memo, obtained by Variety.


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“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,” he added.

As examples, Sarandos referenced Netflix content, including “Cuties,” the Sundance sensation meant to comment on the “hypersexualiztion of children,” which in turn was accused of promoting lewd images of minors; the teen suicide drama “13 Reasons Why;” and the unscripted series “My Unorthodox Life” about a fashion executive leaving the Jewish Orthodox faith.

Netflix declined to comment on the matter.

GLAAD responded to Sarandos’ memo on Monday, saying anti-LGBTQ content is technically against Netflix policy.

“Netflix has a policy that content ‘designed to incite hate or violence’ is not allowed on the platform, but we all know that anti-LGBTQ content does exactly that,” the statement reads. “While Netflix is home to groundbreaking LGBTQ stories, now is the time for Netflix execs to listen to LGBTQ employees, industry leaders, and audiences and commit to living up to their own standards.”

Seeming to address industry rumors that many Netflix employees were incensed by the company’s silence over Chappelle’s remarks about the trans community, Sarandos said, “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.”

In the memo, Sarandos drew a line between expressing artistic freedom and protecting employees in the workplace.

“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.

Read the full memo from Sarandos below:

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.

-Ted

Source: Variety.com

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