Netflix is standing with Dave Chappelle following widespread criticism over his transphobic comments in his stand-up special The Closer, in which he referred to himself as “team TERF” (trans-exclusionary radical feminist).
In a staff memo sent on Friday and obtained by Variety, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos acknowledged that the special had gotten plenty of backlash—from both Netflix employees and users of the streaming platform. But instead of recognizing that Chappelle’s words are harmful to trans people, Sarandos doubled down.
The memo reads:
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.
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 on 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 principals.
The memo comes after Terra Field, a trans senior software engineer at Netflix, wrote a Twitter thread expressing why the special puts trans people in danger. As she explained, “What we object to is the harm that content like this does to the trans community (especially trans people of color) and VERY specifically Black trans women. People who look like me aren’t being killed. I’m a white woman, I get to worry about Starbucks writing ‘Tara’ on my drink.”
Field was reportedly suspended by the streaming giant—alongside two other employees. According to The Verge, Field and the other employees allegedly tried to “attend a director-level meeting they weren’t invited to.” Another trans employee is said to have quit after the streaming giant’s decision to stand by Chappelle.
A Netflix spokesperson denied that Field was suspended for voicing her opinion, telling The Verge, “It is absolutely untrue to say that we have suspended any employee for tweeting about this show. Our employees are encouraged to disagree openly and we support their right to do so.”
The Verge also reported that after the special arrived, “employees started asking pointed questions about whether or not trans people were included in the decision to air the special and where the company draws a line between commentary and transphobia,” prompting Sarandos’ memo.
Update, 10/12/21: Terra Field has now posted an update on Twitter, saying that Netflix has agreed to fully reinstate her as an employee after determining that her decision to join the aforementioned meeting was not done “with any ill intent.” Field says that, at the very least, she feels “vindicated,” adding, “I’m going to take a few days off to decompress and try to figure out where I’m at.”