The controversy surrounding Dave Chappelle’s “The Closer” special was not mentioned during Netflix’s earnings interview on Tuesday, which included co-CEO Ted Sarandos and other company executives.
Sarandos, co-CEO Reed Hastings and CFO Spencer Neumann fielded prepared questions during the prerecorded interview, which came on the heels of the company announcing that it had flown past its Q3 earnings forecasts. Much of the conversation unsurprisingly revolved around positives for the company, including the success of “Squid Game,” which has become the most popular Netflix original series in history.
Sarandos underlined the importance of the international series, saying “around the world, non-English content viewing has grown three times since we started in 2008.” Sarandos noted during the interview that Netflix’s Korea team knew “Squid Game” would be a hit, but the U.S. team couldn’t have predicted the worldwide crossover. “‘Squid Game’ was picked up a couple years ago from the Korea team, who did recognize it as what they thought would be their biggest title this year, so [it’s] good that they did. But I can’t tell you that we had the same eyeball on it to tell you that it was gonna be the biggest title in history around the world.”
Sarandos was also asked about the original film output, and why we haven’t seen the consistency of success in original films yet when contrasted with breakout shows like “Stranger Things” and “The Witcher.” “Remember we’re a few years behind in the film business [from] our TV business,” Sarandos replied. “We started making meaningful budget original film about three years ago, and in that time we’ve had five Oscar-nominated Best Pictures and some big, big films in terms of viewing.”
“I don’t have any doubt that we’re gonna see that kind of excitement in the culture around our movies as we have in our TV shows over time,” Sarandos added, while noting that some of Netflix’s “biggest bets yet” are coming in Q4 of this year and Q1 of next year. In the weeks and months ahead, Netflix will release the “Army of the Dead” prequel film “Army of Thieves” as well as the Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot heist thriller “Red Notice,” which is one of the biggest-budgeted Netflix original films ever made. Also on tap is Jane Campion’s Oscar contender “The Power of the Dog,” which is heating up the festival circuit.
The earnings interview came amid a turbulent time for Netflix, as transgender employees and their allies have planned a walkout for Wednesday at the company’s Hollywood headquarters. They are protesting Netflix’s decision to stream Chappelle’s most recent stand-up comedy special, in which he made several transphobic comments. Trans activist Ashlee Marie Preston has also organized a rally to support the walkout, during which protesters plan to present Sarandos with an unspecified “list of firm asks” related to the issue.
“The Closer,” which launched Oct. 5 on Netflix, has been hotly criticized for Chappelle’s transphobic jokes. At one point during the special, he stated, “Gender is a fact. Every human being in this room, every human being on Earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on Earth.” The comedian then riffed about the genitalia of trans women, which he described as “not what it is.”
Chappelle also drew heat for defending “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, who has been repeatedly criticized for making transphobic comments. “They canceled J.K. Rowling – my God,” he said. “Effectually she said gender was a fact, the trans community got mad as s—, they started calling her a TERF.” (TERF stands for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist” — feminists who do not believe trans women are women. Chapelle then went on to declare himself “Team TERF.”)
Sarandos has so far defended Netflix’s decision to stream the special, and in a memo to employees last week, said the streamer will not take down “The Closer.”
“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,” he wrote in the memo.
Sarandos’ comments were subsequently criticized by the likes of trans comedian Hannah Gadsby — who wrote in an Instagram post aimed at the CEO, “F— you and your amoral algorithm cult” — and the LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD, which disputed Sarandos’ claim that “content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”
Also last week, Netflix reinstated three employees who were suspended for crashing an executive meeting, including Terra Field, a trans software engineer who publicly criticized the company’s decision to stream Chappelle’s special. At the time of the suspension, a Netflix representative told TheWrap that Field in particular was not suspended for tweeting about the special and that the company encourages its employees to speak openly; the suspensions, Netflix said, occurred because the employees were not authorized to attend the meeting.