Netflix boss draws fire after defending ‘the comedian of our generation’ Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais amid trans backlash

·3 min read
Monica Schipper—Getty Images/Netflix

Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos defended the company’s decision to keep making controversial content, as another one of its stand-up specials faces criticism from LGBTQ and transgender activists.

Just months after Dave Chappelle's stand-up special The Closer drew criticism from Netflix employees and LGBTQ activists for jokes made at the expense of transgender people, Ricky Gervais's Netflix special SuperNature released on May 24 is doing the same.

But despite the recurring controversy, Netflix and its chief executive officer are not backing down.

Since Chappelle's show first sparked controversy, Sarandos has stood by his star citing creative freedom, and even went as far as to update Netflix’s culture guidelines to state that if employees don’t like working on their content then the streamer may not be the best place for them.

Now Sarandos has argued that comedians can only test boundaries by “crossing the line every once in a while."

In a New York Times interview, he said: "I believe it’s very important to the American culture generally to have free expression.

“We’re programming for a lot of diverse people who have different opinions and different tastes and different styles, and yet we’re not making everything for everybody.

"We want something for everybody but everything’s not going to be for everybody."

Backlash

The Netflix chief added that the decision to continue working with Chappelle wasn’t hard.

“It was an opportunity to take somebody, like in Dave’s case, who is, by all measure, the comedian of our generation, the most popular comedian on Netflix for sure," he enthused.

"Nobody would say that what he does isn’t thoughtful or smart. You just don’t agree with him."

However, his comments drew fierce criticism from LGBTQ supporters, who accused the Netflix chief of supporting bigotry.

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“Screwed up”

Last October, transgender employees at Netflix staged a company-wide protest over Chappelle's special, accusing the company of releasing content that was harmful to the trans community.

Netflix employees complained on social media, while LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD and the National Black Justice Coalition called on Netflix to pull the show.

In response to the backlash, Sarandos wrote in a letter to employees on Oct. 8, defending the special, saying he believed the content in The Closer wouldn't directly translate into real-world harm for trans people.

“Adults can watch violence, assault, and abuse – or enjoy shocking stand-up comedy – without it causing them to harm others,” Sarandos wrote, according to Variety.

Sarandos later apologized for those comments saying he “screwed up,” adding storytelling does have an impact on the world which can be quite negative.

Now, a new Netflix special from comedian Ricky Gervais is facing similar backlash, for what an LGBTQ advocacy group called “anti-trans rants.”

Gervais has defended the stand-up special as equal-opportunity humor and not a reflection of his views on trans or other rights, but transgender and LGBTQ defenders assert the special violates a Netflix policy against content designed to incite hate or violence.

Netflix is unlikely to take the special down and some have called Sarandos a "conservative hero" for his stance on free speech.

When asked how he felt about this title, Sarandos told the New York Times, “It used to be a very liberal issue, so it’s an interesting time that we live in.”

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com

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