Netflix CEO criticised for claiming on-screen content doesn’t cause ‘real-world harm’ amid Dave Chappelle backlash



Netflix’s CEO has been widely criticised online for claiming that on-screen content doesn’t cause real-world harm amid his continued defence of Dave Chappelle.

Released earlier this month, Chappelle’s latest special The Closer was met with criticism for mocking trans people. In it, the stand-up comedians says that he is “team TERF” (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) and claims that the LGBTQ+ community are trying to destroy the lives of celebrities such as JK Rowling by “cancelling” them.

Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos originally defended the comic in a memo sent to staff last week, saying that artistic freedom allowed for “a very different standard of speech” than was allowed internally at the company.

Now, Variety reports that another email was sent to the company on Monday (11 October) comparing the backlash to The Closer to Netflix’s controversial film 365 Days, in that neither would allegedly have a real-world impact.

“With The Closer, we understand that the concern is not about offensive-to-some content but titles which could increase real world harm (such as further marginalising already marginalised groups, hate, violence etc),” Sarandos wrote.

“While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm… Adults can watch violence, assault and abuse – or enjoy shocking stand-up comedy – without it causing them to harm others.”

Sarandos’s comments were widely condemned online, with many pointing out that Netflix’s 2020 documentary Disclosure suggested that transphobic content does, in fact, affect the real lives of trans people.

“If only Sarandos had access to a documentary called Disclosure that makes a very convincing argument about the many ways content has translated to real-world harm for the trans community,” TV critic Alan Sepinwall wrote. “It’s on… [checks notes] …Netflix.”

Another tweet read: “Like the article shows, there are studies and statistics that show content (specifically content on netflix) has a direct impact on real world consequences/harm. As a (co-)CEO how can you say or believe this unironically? How can you be *that* clueless about your own content?”

“I really wish Ted Sarandos would watch Disclosure, a documentary that Netflix distributes, that demonstrates and proves the exact opposite of what he’s saying here,” one commenter wrote.

This point was echoed by the organisation GLAAD, which monitors defamatory coverage of queer people in the media, who said: “Film and TV have also been filled with stereotypes and misinformation about us for decades, leading to real world harm, especially for trans people and LGBTQ people of colour. Ironically, the documentary Disclosure on Netflix demonstrates this quite clearly.”

Sarandos was also accused of hypocrisy, given that Netflix removed an episode of comedian Hasan Minhaj’s series Patriot Act from their Saudi Arabian platform in 2019. The episode was critical of the country’s government in the wake of the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“Then why did Netflix remove Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act episode about Saudi Arabia since you believe it’s ok for content to expose issues that are uncomfortable?” comedian Mohanad Elshieky tweeted.

The Independent has contacted Netflix for comment.

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