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Netflix's Sarandos Defends Chappelle's 'Closer': 'We Work Hard to Support Creative Freedom'

Dave Chappelle: Sticks & Stones
(Image credit: Lester Cohen)

Netflix has suspended three employees, including an outspoken trans staffer, for allegedly hacking into a virtual meeting to which they were not invited. 

Terra Field, a senior software engineer for the streaming company based in San Francisco, and two other Netflix employees, allegedly found their way into a virtual meeting among Netflix executives, intended to address how the company should respond to a heated controversy tied to the latest Dave Chappelle standup special, The Closer, which dropped last week. 

Field had tweeted her unease about the special on Oct. 6:

(Image credit: Twitter)

“It is absolutely untrue to say that we have suspended any employees for tweeting about this show,” Netflix said in a statement. “Our employees are encouraged to disagree openly and we support their right to do so.”

Meanwhile, the meeting seems to have gestated a communications strategy, evidenced by this leaked company memo from Netflix Co-CEO Ted Sarandos:

“Chappelle is one of the most popular stand-up comedians today, and we have a long standing deal with him," Sarandos told Netflix staff. "As with our other talent, we work hard to support their creative freedom — even though this means there will always be content on Netflix some people believe is harmful, like Cuties365 Days13 Reasons Why or My Unorthodox Life.

“Several of you have also asked where we draw the line on hate," Sarandos added. "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 added. “I recognize, however, that distinguishing between commentary and harm is hard, especially with stand-up comedy which exists to push boundaries. Some people find the art of stand-up to be mean-spirited but our members enjoy it, and it’s an important part of our content offering.”

The Closer is the culmination of a six-special, $120 million deal that Chappelle signed with Netflix back in 2016. 

The provocative comedian has steadily heated the dialog between himself and the LBGTQ community over the course of this work. And The Closer has taken a back-and-forth, previously arbitrated mainly over Twitter, to another level, with trans supporters complaining that Chappelle's latest work is less about artful comedic expression than it is dangerous, divisive and hurtful rhetoric.  

This isn't the first time that Sarandos has backed Chappelle in a dispute. In December, Netflix pulled its off-net run of Chappelle's Show, after the comedian complained loudly that owner ViacomCBS was licensing the repeats based on an exploitive deal it made with the comedian at a time he had little leverage. 

ViacomCBS and Chappelle have since settled the rift, and Netflix has restored the episodes. 

Daniel Frankel

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. His reliable mid-range jump shot, deft ambidextrous post-up game and tough interior defense have been criminally overlooked.