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Netflix boss defends Chappelle's, Gervais' right to free speech; doesn't regret angering trans community

'Diversity of thought, expression, is super important to defend. It’s good for culture, it’s good for society — not just for the U.S. but everywhere,' Sarandos concluded. 

Netflix boss defends Chappelle's, Gervais' right to free speech; doesn't regret angering trans community
AP Photo/Claude Paris
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Ted Sarandos, the co-CEO of Netflix, is doubling down on his support for comedians to tell offensive jokes. 

Following widespread outrage over Dave Chappelle’s and Ricky Gervais’ controversial stand-up specials, which were exclusive to Netflix, the company’s co-CEO and content chief reiterated his position that Netflix has “always been a supporter of the art” of comedy. 

Sarandos made his remarks at the “Future of Entertainment” panel at the Cannes Lions advertising conference this week, in which he received an award for Entertainment Person of the Year. 

As detailed by Rebel News, Chappelle’s “transphobic” 2021 special, The Closer, received widespread acclaim from audiences worldwide while simultaneously sparking the ire of woke critics and their counterparts on social media, who condemned Netflix for publishing what some have called an “attack” on transgender identity. 

In the comedy special, Chappelle reiterated his understanding in the gender binary, and defended Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who continues to face a cancellation mob for her critical views on gender and biological sex. The special prompted a protest outside of Netflix, and the firing of a company employee who led the protest, who had also leaked sensitive data to the press in retaliation to the show’s popularity. 

“We’re programming to people with a real variety of tastes and sensibilities. [There’s a range in] how they were brought up, what they think is offensive or what they think is damaging to themselves or to children,” Sarandos said at the panel, Deadline reported

“We won’t make everyone happy, but that’s the beauty of on-demand: you can turn it off,” he added. “The reason comedy is hard is we don’t all laugh at the same thing. We all cry at the same thing so drama is a little easier to pull off, but when it comes to comedy, it’s all very different.” 

He continued, “Also, it’s not frozen in time. Those comedians who are good at what they do are always testing the audience. They know what gets laughs; it’s road-tested before they record the special. If you look back at Eddie Murphy’s Delirious, at the time, it was the greatest hour of comedy ever filmed. Most of that material is pretty out of step today. Eddie says the same thing.” 

Sarandos said that “part of the art form is to cross the line,” adding that art of the art form means you only find where the line is by crossing it sometimes.” 

“Supporting expression is really important,” the Netflix executive stated, noting that it is “almost impossible” to censor Chapelle. He reiterated that Netflix intends to support Chappelle’s right to free speech “all the way to the Supreme Court” if need be. 

Netflix has “never taken [Chappelle’s special] down anywhere in the world” and will not change its position on the matter. 

“Diversity of thought, expression, is super important to defend. It’s good for culture, it’s good for society — not just for the U.S. but everywhere,” Sarandos concluded. 

As for the employees who were upset by the special, Sarandos said that he doesn’t regret not supporting their protest, stating that even though they were “hurting,” and how he could have been more “empathetic” towards them, the decision he made to stand by Chappelle’s right to free speech “was very important globally.”

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