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Netflix Boss Doubles Down On Dave Chappelle's Controversial Specials

Comedian Dave Chappelle has been the subject of controversy lately over his Netflix special, "The Closer," which premiered on the streaming service in October of 2021. Chappelle faced backlash for the special due to numerous transphobic comments. These comments include Chappelle declaring that "gender is a fact" and defending J.K. Rowling, who has made plenty of headlines in recent years for her own transphobic comments. Chappelle even went as far as to essentially call himself a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist), stating, "[TERFs] look at trans women the way we Blacks might look at blackface. It offends them. Like, 'Ew, this b*tch is doing an impression of me'" (via Bustle).

Chappelle received backlash from many viewers, as well as a few public figures such as the executive producer of "Dear White People" (another Netflix title), Jaclyn Moore, a trans woman, who vowed to never work with Netflix again (via Variety). Further, as The Verge reported, Netflix suspended three trans employees who spoke out against "The Closer;" two of those workers eventually resigned and the third was fired on the basis of allegedly leaking confidential information.

Despite all this, Chappelle's special has been defended by top executives of Netflix — most recently, CEO Reed Hastings.

CEO Hastings said they would stick by Chappelle again and again

During The New York Times' DealBook Summit, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings took the opportunity to defend Dave Chappelle and his controversial special, which Netflix bought for a whopping $24.1 million (via The Hollywood Reporter). Hastings declared that the streaming service's overall goal is entertainment and described Chappelle as entertaining as well as provocative (via The Verge).

Hastings said, "We're just trying to be the most exciting entertainment company and more. That special was one of the most entertaining watch specials we've ever had. We would do it again and again."

Hastings is not the first Netflix CEO to defend Chappelle, as co-CEO Ted Sarandos did so in an internal email to Netflix employees in early October 2021 following the backlash from their employees. Sarandos wrote, "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" (The Verge). Sarandos then went on to write that stand-up comedy is meant to push boundaries, which he feels makes it hard for viewers to distinguish between harm and commentary. Further, he emphasized how important stand-up is to Netflix's content.

Sarandos expressed some regret — but still defended Chappelle's special

A couple of weeks after Sarandos's email to Netflix employees was reported, the Netflix co-CEO sat down with Variety for an interview, during which he expressed regret over his comments. Sarandos said, "Obviously, I screwed up that internal communication ... I should have led with a lot more humanity. Meaning, I had a group of employees who were definitely feeling pain and hurt from a decision we made. And I think that needs to be acknowledged up front before you get into the nuts and bolts of anything."

However, he doubled down on the stance of free speech, stating that Netflix makes content for people with all different types of beliefs. When asked if he thinks Chappelle's comments fall under the umbrella of hate speech, Sarandos responded, "Under the definition of 'does it intend to cause physical harm?' I do not believe it falls into hate speech."

Sarandos then defended the special once again in May of 2022 during an interview with The New York Times. In the interview, Sarandos expressed his belief in the importance of free speech as well as the importance of sometimes crossing the line. Declaring that it was an easy decision to back Chappelle, Sarandos added, "Rarely do you get the opportunity to put your principles to the test. 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. Nobody would say that what he does isn't thoughtful or smart. You just don't agree with him. "