Vanity Fair TV critic Sonia Saraiya is accusing Netflix of “gaslighting” the public amid the uproar over Dave Chappelle’s new stand-up special.
The streaming giant has stood by Chappelle’s “The Closer,” which critics including Saraiya have decried as “transphobic” over remarks he made supporting J.K. Rowling in that gender is based in fact, declaring himself on “team TERF,” which stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist.
Saraiya insisted Netflix “has spent the last week alienating” its queer audiences.
“Of course, Chappelle is a comedian who relies on tweaking our most sensitive buttons, and has targeted trans people in his humor in the past. But this special muddles through polemic and memory, incorporating Chappelle’s trans friend Daphne Dorman’s suicide into a special that also asserts, not very humorously, that ‘gender is a fact,’” Saraiya wrote Friday.
Saraiya then quoted Netflix employees who’ve been outspoken with their condemnation of the Chappelle special and cited the internal Netflix drama that included the suspension of a trans employee who attempted to storm into a high-level meeting and the firing of another trans employee who leaked financial documents regarding Chappelle’s specials to Bloomberg News.
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“[Netflix CEO Ted] Sarandos’s memo chose to recenter the conversation on whether or not ‘The Closer’ caused harm, and then to strongly argue that it does not. This led the executive toward some bold language: ‘While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm… The strongest evidence to support this is that violence on screens has grown hugely over the last thirty years, especially with first party shooter games, and yet violent crime has fallen significantly in many countries. Adults can watch violence, assault, and abuse—or enjoy shocking stand-up comedy—without it causing them to harm others,’” Saraiya quoted the Netflix boss.
“There are so many red flags in this statement that I don’t quite know where to start. Certainly you have to admire its casual conviction; after all, what exactly would make Ted Sarandos an expert on how what we see onscreen affects who we are in life? The statement turns watching Chappelle into a question of taste, a personal choice that has no political ramifications,” Saraiya reacted to Sarandos. “It’s so slippery and difficult to pin down what makes someone violent that Sarandos’s statement is hard to immediately disprove—and trying to disprove it puts you in the deep weeds of trying to suss out the motivations of hate.”
After citing statistics of a surge in anti-trans violence, Saraiya wrote, “It is not rocket science to suggest that a huge comedian spouting bigotry on a major media platform might make it a little more likely that an already at-risk group of people will suffer more violence. Chappelle offers absolution for prejudice; he’s making anti-trans prejudice acceptable, digestible, indeed, even funny. Netflix knows just how powerful Chappelle’s anti-trans rhetoric is—because his specials have devoted, vocal fans. Ironically, Sarandos is picking and choosing his real-world effects; he’s singling out the adoration of Chappelle’s fans while dismissing the effect of anti-trans rhetoric.”
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The Vanity Fair critic acknowledged Sarandos’ support for Chappelle “is at least partly about money” since Netflix made a multi-million-dollar investment into the comedian and that “Studio heads have long made devil’s bargains for their talent.”
“Sarandos, and Netflix’s leadership as a whole, seems to think the efforts to make Chappelle fit on the platform are worth squandering the years of goodwill and investment made in making Netflix a space where queer audiences are seen as just as important and valuable as straight viewers. They certainly seem particularly confident that while they are collecting their ‘impact value’ off of Chappelle’s specials that his rhetoric is doing no harm. I will be curious to see what costs, if any, they bear for breaking their long-standing relationship with the LGBTQ+ community,” Saraiya added.