Netflix is addressing complaints about Dave Chappelle‘s The Closer, the last in a string of stand-up specials that is being criticized for comments deemed “dangerously transphobic” by at least one member of the streaming service’s creative community. But one thing the service is not prepared to do is take down or alter Chappelle’s set.
Released on Oct. 5, the 72-minute special was promoted as the last in a “body of work” that also included 2017’s The Age of Spin, Deep In the Heart of Texas, Equanimity and The Bird Revelation, followed by 2019’s Sticks & Stones. During The Closer, Chappelle maintains that “gender is a fact.” He goes on to say that “every human being in this room, every human being on Earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on Earth,” before likening trans women’s genitalia to two brands of plant-based meat substitutes.
Chappelle also declares his support for Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who has been condemned for comments deemed anti-trans. The comedian states that he is proudly “Team TERF,” an initialism that stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist. He also contrasts homophobic remarks made by rapper DaBaby with systemic racism.
“In our country, you can shoot and kill a n—-r, but you better not hurt a gay person’s feelings,” Chappelle says.
In an internal memo acquired by our sister site Variety, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos acknowledged the controversy that has stemmed from The Closer, but defended Chappelle’s “artistic freedom.” He also said that Netflix has no plans to remove the special due to outside pressure.
“Some talent may join third parties in asking us to remove the show in the coming days, which we are not going to do,” Sarandos wrote. “Chapelle is one of the most popular stand-up comedians today, and we have a long-standing deal with him. His last special Sticks & Stones, also controversial, is our most watched, stickiest and most award winning stand-up special to date. 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 Cuties, 365 Days, 13 Reasons Why or My Unorthodox Life.
“Several of you have also asked where we draw the line on hate,” Sarandos continued. “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.”
Sarandos reiterated Netflix’s “commitment to inclusion” and telling stories that reflect “under-represented communities,” listing such examples as Sex Education, Young Royals, Control Z and Disclosure. But he defended the art form of stand-up comedy, suggesting that there is a “different stand of speech than we allow internally” and a difference between “entertaining people versus maintaining a respectful, productive workplace.”
Chappelle’s special drew ire from Dear White People executive producer Jaclyn Moore. The EP, who identifies as a trans woman, declared on Oct. 7 that she will no longer work with Netflix “as long as they continue to put out and profit from blatantly and dangerously transphobic content
“I love so many of the people I’ve worked with at Netflix. Brilliant people and executives who have been collaborative and fought for important art,” Moore wrote on Twitter. “But I’ve been thrown against walls because ‘I’m not a “real” woman.’ I’ve had beer bottles thrown at me. So, @Netflix, I’m done.
“Chappelle was one of my heroes,” Moore said. “But he said he’s a TERF. He compared my existence to someone doing blackface. He talks about someone winning a Woman of the Year award despite never having a period should make women mad and that it makes him mad. And then he ended his special with a ‘but I had a trans friend’ story. He says we don’t listen. But he’s not listening. Those words have real world consequences… that every trans woman I know has dealt with…. I can’t be a part of a company that thinks that’s worth putting out and celebrating.”
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) also released a statement on Oct. 6, which reads as follows:
“Dave Chappelle’s brand has become synonymous with ridiculing trans people and other marginalized communities. Negative reviews and viewers loudly condemning his latest special is a message to the industry that audiences don’t support platforming anti-LGBTQ diatribes. We agree.”