Netflix’s Handling of the Response to Dave Chappelle’s “The Closer” Draws Criticism

A fraught situation gets even more fraught

"The Closer" billboard
General view of a Netflix billboard above Hollywood Blvd promoting Dave Chappelle's controversial comedy special 'The Closer.'
AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

There was a moment in 2016 when many a fan of stand-up comedy could feel excited — thrilled, even — about the prospect of new specials featuring Dave Chappelle. Chapelle signed a major deal with Netflix, and in the years since then, a steady array of his stand-up comedy has made its way to the streaming service. The latest of these, The Closer, debuted last week — but the presence of transphobic humor in the special has led to many onetime fans of Chappelle’s work feeling betrayed.

“How much you enjoy The Closer will depend on whether you’re able or willing to believe the comic and the human are separate entities and to buy that the human loves us all, and the comic is only performing spitefulness for his audience,” Craig Jenkins wrote at Vulture. But as for Netflix itself, the company’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos responded to the controversy surrounding The Closer via an internal memo — and that response has left many frustrated.

As Variety reported, Sarandos’s memo acknowledged the controversy surrounding The Closer, but also stating the company’s support of Chappelle. “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,” Sarandos wrote.

Unfortunately for Sarandos, this coincides with Netflix suspending a trio of employees for — as Gizmodo’s Brianna Provenzano phrased it — “crashing an executive-level meeting” to raise their concerns about The Closer. One of them, Senior Software Engineer Terra Field, is trans and posted a lengthy thread articulating her frustration with both Chappelle’s special and Netflix.

“Promoting TERF ideology (which is what we did by giving it a platform yesterday) directly harms trans people, it is not some neutral act,” Field wrote. “This is not an argument with two sides.” And while Netflix might not intend it, defending Chappelle while suspending a trans employee who raised issues with some of the sentiments conveyed in The Closer sends an unfortunate message to many viewers.

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