I’m no stranger to Rainbow Capitalism – I know that if a major corporation is supporting us it’s usually an economic or PR move – but Netflix at least provided a wide selection of content to go with those marketing rainbows. The actions of Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos in the wake of the Dave Chappelle controversy, however, is a much-needed reminder that they are not our allies.
If you haven’t been keeping up with the Netflix debacle, let me attempt to give you a brief rundown.
Netflix has recently released a new Dave Chappelle stand-up special called The Closer, which features many incredibly offensive transphobic remarks and insinuations about the queer community. At one point he says he’s on “Team TERF” and continually denies trans identities while saying that he’s not denying these identities. At one point he states “Every human being in this room, every human being on Earth had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on Earth. That is a fact.” He immediately followed up this statement by saying he’s not saying trans women aren’t women, but that is exactly what he was saying by insisting that everyone has to “pass through the legs of a woman.” He’s basically gaslighting us within his own stand-up routine.
However, the issue goes far beyond Dave Chappelle. Honestly, I could have moved on from his offensive set as I’ve never really been a fan of him in the first place. Had his special been on some other platform I may have fired off an angry tweet and then moved on with life. The actions of Netflix, however, has been the aspect of this whole ordeal that’s truly felt like a gut punch. Netflix, which has a much larger selection of LGBTQ+ content than many other media companies, who has been highlighted by GLAAD for their quality content, chose to stream this special and lash out at people who had a problem with it.
The first person to ring the alarm bells publicly was a trans Netflix employee. She made an extensive thread about the special on Twitter, and was then suspended by the company. Netflix insists the suspension is because she attended a ‘director-level meeting’ without being invited, but even with that context, it very much feels like retaliation. Even if she did attempt to crash a meeting uninvited, it feels like an excuse to get rid of an outspoken employee with whatever infraction they could nail her on. It’s retaliation, no matter how they attempt to excuse it.
Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos also sent out a memo defending the special. Sarandos, a cisgender man, unashamedly states, “Several of you have also asked where we draw the line on hate. We don’t allow titles Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe ‘The Closer’ crosses that line.” Why he feels that he can be the arbitrator of what is offensive to the trans community is anyone’s guess. Perhaps he should stop for a minute and listen to the community that is being harmed by this instead of insisting that it isn’t harmful. How could he possibly know what this community goes through?
All of this is bad, but this was only the beginning of the whole debacle. It seems that every day since there’s been a new double down on their stance about the special. At this point, we’re basically at a quintuple-down. The creator of Dear White People has ended her relationship with Netflix in protest, and trans employees are staging a walk-out in response to the ordeal, but Netflix just keeps digging the hole they’re in deeper and deeper. In fact, they’ve since fired one of the people who organized the walk-out. Like the suspension of the other employee, they used a different reason as an excuse, but it’s pretty flimsy. They aren’t backing down, and seem to be getting even more aggressive.
At this point, what do we do? Netflix clearly isn’t listening to employees, consumers, or content creators. Nobody seems to be able to get through to them no matter how hard they try. I personally can’t even do much as I’m not currently subscribed to Netflix (I tend to turn it on for Stranger Things, and then unsubscribe afterwards). That said, I did dramatically delete the app from my phone this morning, which provided some catharsis. Some who are current subscribers have canceled their subscription and stated firmly that the Chappelle controversy is what drove them to do so, but I’m not sure if they’ll care much about that either. CEO Ted Sarandos seems to have made up his mind and there’s no swaying him from it.
I don’t have answers for how to reach those in power at Netflix and change their minds. I wish I did. At this point all we can do is what feels right for us – delete, unsubscribe, write a letter, angrily tweet about it – but we shouldn’t hold out hope that any of our actions will have any effect on Sarandos. We’re taking these actions as catharsis for ourselves, and to participate in the wider conversation even if nothing ever comes of it. I’m personally prepared to stay away from Netflix as long as Sarandos is CEO, even if it means never watching a single episode of Stranger Things ever again. But this choice is for me and me alone. You need to do what’s best for you.
I don’t want to end this article with this hopelessness, however. There are some incredible shows out there that aren’t on Netflix, so let me recommend a few that we’ve highlighted here the past few years:
- Legends of Tomorrow
- Mo Dao Zu Shi/The Untamed
- The Other Two
- Two Doors Down
- A Black Lady Sketch Show
- The Expanse and 12 Monkeys
- The Collection
- The Good Place
I’m hoping that Netflix either corrects this issue (which I’m doubtful that they will) or at the very least doesn’t have the audacity to pretend to be pro-LGBTQ+ when they clearly are not. If they put up a rainbow logo next June, I predict the backlash will be fierce. As it should be. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too, here. You either support the LGBTQ+ community, or you don’t. And right now, Netflix clearly does not.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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