Netflix Boss Doubles Down On Dave Chappelle’s Transphobia In Embarrassing Email

Netflix Boss Doubles Down On Dave Chappelle’s Transphobia In Embarrassing Email
Photo: Stacy Revere, Getty Images

Dave Chappelle’s latest comedy special, The Closer, contains some very sad, very harmful anti-trans comments. Faced with widespread criticism over his company’s decision to bankroll and air the special, Netflix Co-CEO Ted Sarandos has decided to email the entire company twice, and in doing so simply make things worse.

When the show was first released on Netflix, a prominent trans employee and two colleagues were suspended by the company for speaking out against Chappelle publicly then crashing a senior meeting (and after public backlash were reinstated only a day later). On Friday Sarandos sent out a memo defending Chappelle, saying “Chappelle 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”.

Employees are now planning a walkout in protest, and in response to continued tensions, Sarandos has decided to double down and issue another memo. First obtained by Variety, it reads (emphasis mine):

We know that a number of you have been left angry, disappointed and hurt by our decision to put Dave Chappelle’s latest special on Netflix. Also, we have many new colleagues who want to better understand the principles that guide our team’s content choices, especially with challenging titles like this.

Our goal is to entertain the world, which means programming for a diversity of tastes. This member-centric view has driven our growth over the last 20 years, despite all the competition, and remains Netflix’s north star today. We also support artistic freedom to help attract the best creators, and push back on government and other censorship requests. Our Entertain the World and Strategy Bets memos, which we’ve debated extensively, are clear about both principles – including the trade offs, i.e. that we’ll always have titles some members and employees dislike or believe are harmful.

With The Closer, we understand that the concern is not about offensive-to-some content but titles which could increase real world harm (such as further marginalising already marginalised groups, hate, violence etc.) Last year, we heard similar concerns about 365 Days and violence against women. 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. We are working hard to ensure marginalised communities aren’t defined by a single story. So we have Sex Education, Orange is the New Black, Control Z, Hannah Gadsby and Dave Chappelle all on Netflix. Key to this is increasing diversity on the content team itself.

In his special, Chappelle makes harsh jokes about many different groups, which is his style and a reason his fans love his comedy and commentary. Stand-up comedians often expose issues that are uncomfortable because the art by nature is a highly provocative. As a leadership team, we do not believe that The Closer is intended to incite hatred or violence against anyone (per our Sensitive Content guidelines).

We’ve had these operating principles around pleasing our members and artistic expression for many years, and the team’s decision to put The Closer on our service was consistent with them. The variety and quality of our content is what members value most. Our hope is that you can be hugely inspired by entertaining the world, while also living with titles you strongly believe have no place on Netflix. This will not be the last title that causes some of you to wonder if you can still love Netflix. I sincerely hope that you can.


What the absolute fuck. One of the world’s most popular comedians standing on stage and saying proudly that he’s “team TERF” (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) is doing an incredible amount of harm. It is doing literally nothing else but delegitimising and directly attacking an entire group of vulnerable human beings. To try and shrug that off by using anecdotal, unscientific and unrelated points about video games, or to only use actual physical attacks as his chief metric for “harm”, is a staggering thing to read.

Good luck to every single one of the 1000 employees taking part in the “virtual walkout” next week.


  • I hope you do realize you are making this special infinitely more popular.

    Chappelle is a stand-up legend. If you don’t like his special, DONT WATCH IT.

    • No joke, This is probably the best free advertising Dave could have asked for. Stellar job promoting his special!

      • 1,000 Netflix employees are staging a walkout. I don’t think a single Kotaku article will do anything to its popularity, positive or negative, compared to the weight of reporting that’ll follow a staff walkout.

        • I was referring to the outrage against this special in general.

          This special would have flown under the radar if not for the outrage. It’s having the opposite effect. Its the best free promotion Netflix or Dave could ask for.

          • Historically, ignoring the problem has been the bigger issue.
            Trans people have been treated as if they don’t exist, or as an aberration, or an anomaly. They’re only just getting visibility as people now.
            Nothing was going to fly under the radar. Chappelle is already famous, Netflix is an enormous platform with a huge marketing budget.
            The worst thing anybody can do is ignore it.

          • You can easily ignore it. His specials are not a problem. People getting salty about jokes and demanding censorship are the problem.

  • Watched it, loved it. Was sad to hear Dave’s trans friend killed themselves because the amount of hate they received from their own community when they stood up for him.

      • “A trans person killing themselves after being abused by the trans community on twitter is perfectly fine! They deserved it!”

        • She’ll never be able to speak for herself, or say whether she wanted to be tokenised in that way. She’ll never be able to say why she did it, or what other elements were at play, but feel free to speak on her behalf like Dave.

          • Also, I want to point out the hilarity that is you thinking a trans woman killing herself right after being heavily abused online isn’t linked.

            But his special apparently will have links between it and real-world harm.

          • Id also likes to point out if the situation was flipped and it was a trans person killing themselves after being abused by fans of dave, youd be screaming from the rooftops how the two were linked. I even bet you would directly blame dave.

    • And yet not a single mention or media coverage will be devoted to that friend and how the trans community drove the friend into suicide lest it shines an ugly but justified light on the Trans community who want to pretend they are holier then thou and pure.

      • The trans community on Twitter is a small minority, Loud yes. But small. Most of the trans community are just normal human beings living their lives like the rest of us.

  • I’m not sure “embarrassing” is the right word to use about this email. It’s a pretty well-reasoned and explanatory email about why they stand by the special and the right to not be censored. Just because you don’t like the answer, doesn’t make it wrong or embarrassing.

    The jokes Chappelle makes are getting a reaction, so he continues to make them. As Ricky Gervais frequently reminds us all – comedians can joke about anything they like, that’s what comedy is. It’s up to consumers to decide if they want to consume the content.

    Comedians DO tend to walk the line between comedy and overt minority bashing pretty hard, especially as their career begins to decline (and Chappelle is probably veering to the wrong side of that line), but I’m not sure removing the special from the airwaves is the answer here.

    If nothing else, we all have a chance to be a part of an open discussion about these issues and become more aware of what we say and do, and perhaps those of us who choose to listen will have a chance to change our behaviour in a meaningful way.

    Posting articles like these with inflammatory headlines really just draws a line in the sand and makes people defensive and less receptive to the actual issues or people affected (cases in point of the phenomenon include vaccines, mask wearing, etc). All this will achieve is a flame war in the comments.

  • I’ve watched it and I don’t agree that he makes hateful comments about the trans community. He makes comments, or jokes, about people that prove themselves to be awful and blinkered.
    Some of the people are trans and take it as a direct attack on every single trans person too and it doesn’t come across like that to me.
    I wouldn’t have watched it except for this hoo-haa and he comes across as a genuine person that wants to be understood as someone that cares about everyone regardless.
    This article is very poor and filled with bile.

  • Ahh Luke… this is a shame.

    You’re happy to jump in with your opinions (is this what journalism is now?) about jokes directed at trans people, but don’t have the balls to complain about all the white jokes he made? Has not enough time passed since BLM?

    • If you can’t enjoy jokes made at your groups expense you need thicker skin.
      Dave’s white people observations are great.

      • Yeah exactly, but people like Luke complain about jokes directed at one group but not another? It’s garbage.

  • Countdown til the comments are removed because nearly every one in them disagrees with Lukes take.
    But considering Luke lives on twitter, just like most of Kotaku do, Cant be surprised hes got shit “I WANT CENSORSHIP OF JOKES” takes.

  • I like how Netflix thinks this content won’t result in real world harm…

    Meanwhile trolls are calling a South Korean business owners phone number just to harrass him.

    Early reports have shown increases of playground violence while kids appear to be mimicing squid games games… for a series that’s age restricted and they shouldn’t of seen?

    • Point to a single example of someone harming a trans person physically and claiming it was because of watching Dave Chappelle.

    • The parents allowing their kids to watch Squid Game are irresponsible morons and kids thinking it’s allowed in real life likely have some mental issues of their own if they can’t differ between fiction and reality. Both parents and children need help in those cases and it’s not the fault of the show for existing. Adults can either be responsible and use a condom or raise children with more than one brain cell engaged.

    • Yes… Let’s not blame the irresponsible parents who practice bad parenting, because it is Netflix’s job to raise responsible adults.

      Way to palm of responsibility.

    • You realise that the games in Squid Game are almost ENTIRELY based on playground games? How in god’s name could kids be mimicking something that they’ve been playing for decades?

      It would be very hard to link the two there.

  • Poor article, in the wrong place.
    Chappelle is the GOAT and he can talk about whatever he likes.
    I’m really disappointed as I generally like browsing this site – for gaming news!
    Any cutting edge comedian looking to bring things out will always court controversy – its so needed right now in a immediate knee jerk cancel culture.

  • This is a tough one to weigh in on. I personally took a harder stance on it before I watched it. After watching I felt more sympathetic towards the show but it’s almost impossible to not feel like you’re part of the problem by laughing with it. Not having any trans friends to bounce off and just seeing the online response via news channels sometimes isn’t enough to get a feel for the real effect something can have.

  • I’m a big Chapelle fan and I was most offended by the lack in humour most of those jokes had. I just wanted him to move on to something funny but he kept dragging the trans jokes out again and again. Like dude, we get it. I’m here for the quick wit and outrageous shit, not the low hanging fruit he used in this special.

  • Kotaku, it’s time to start swinging the banhammer. The comment system is being abused and has become a platform for bad faith counter-progressive rhetoric. It needs to be controlled, or the system needs to be removed.

    • No, the article is an opinion piece, not news. If they don’t want others to share their opinion (and quite respectfully written in most cases) then they shouldn’t share those.
      Are you afraid of discourse?

      • This is the sort of thing I’m talking about, Kotaku. You are not obligated to tolerate intolerance. If Netflix is culpable for platforming Chappelle, at what point are you culpable for platforming this?

        • I do hope you realise the irony of you accusing me of being intolerant when it’s you asking for me to be banned. Not once in my time on this platform have I asked for someone to be banned for having an opinion I don’t like. I’d say I’m very tolerant.

          Perhaps look in the mirror.

          Instead of demanding I be banned for having an opinion you don’t like, perhaps trying replying to my points and countering them?

          • For the benefit of any onlookers remaining at this point – because this variety of commenter isn’t here to argue with me, they’re here to influence you – here’s why this argument is bullshit.

            “Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them”

          • You missed the next bit: “In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be most unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force.”

            So I ask you again. Who decides what is and is not tolerant? According to Popper, it’s “public opinion”. What does that mean? does that mean that the 50% + 1 decide what is tolerant and not tolerant. What happens if the 50% + 1 decide that.. cannibalism is tolerable. Does that make it tolerable? And therefore we can “claim the right to suppress by force?”

            Following on from that, “We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law”.

            So, anything that the 50% = 1 decides is “intolerant” and is considered to be “criminal” as per Popper? So, according to Popper, Chappelle should be thrown in jail for this and considered a criminal. IF the 50% = 1 decide it so.

            Too bad this all depends on people…

            So I ask you again. Who decides what is and is not tolerable.

        • “not obligated to tolerate intolerance”… People love using that as some form of “gotcha”.

          Serious question… who decides what it tolerable and what isn’t? Why is one persons level of tolerance disregarded, yet another is venerated?

          Let’s be completely honest, people who use such things as “we don’t tolerate intolerance”, people like you, actually mean, “we only tolerate what *we* deem to be tolerable”. I mean, everyone thinks like that really… Difference is where that line is.

          So far, the line that some people want is “assume offense is always given, assume there is intent behind every thing that offends you, and assume every person who isn’t you, is some form of -phobic/-ist and that they can only communicate through such means.”

          For example. Let’s take the story of an 11yr old “drag kid” who was filmed “dancing” in a gay bar, while gay men through dollar bills at him, you know.. like a stripper, many of whom were half naked themselves. Some left-leaning MSM in the US actively promoted it as a win for “progressiveness” and positive representation for LGBT youth. The mother of the boy criticised people who spoke out against it as, “homophobic” and, you guessed it, “intolerant”…

          I’ll assume your line doesn’t go that far into depravity, but then… there are people out there who would call you intolerant for that, and then whip out the, “not obligated to tolerate the intolerant,” line. *shrug*

    • I can’t even begin to tell you how much this sort of ridiculous nonsensical commenting pushes me towards being a bigot than I want to be. I want to be open and accepting of everyone, but holy shit some of you fruitcakes make it hard.

      I don’t care what group you represent, but a turd human is a turd human regardless.

    • Dude, you’re either disingenuous or severely lacking self awareness.

      First you say Kotaku needs to ban people you don’t agree with (ie: wrongthink).
      Then, when rightfully pointed out that this is literally a pro-facist action, you play the “paradox of intolerance” card, and (this is my favourite bit) you’re warning the people out there that djbear is not arguing with you but instead trying to sway their opinion, while LITERALLY talking to the people out there, trying to sway their opinion!

      Reading your comments in this chain makes me feel like Frank Grimes at the end of that episode he was in.

  • I’m shaking my fn head at all these expert commentators above basically shrugging their shoulders and se la vie but none of them seem to actually understand what it’s like to be systematically made less-than for characteristics you have no control over. They’re already othering us by lumping us into a block and saying we deserve this and we’re too sensitive. I doubt any of them personally know a trans person, or even a black person by the “isn’t enough time passed since BLM/why he insult whyte ppl?” remark above… They need to learn what punching up/down means. At any rate I’ve seen first hand what the harm of this mainstreaming of “I’m cool and I’m team TERF!” edginess does in real life, what is going on in UK, what’s been going on in US, the way we’re largely still invisible over here in Aus, and what the medical industry has been doing sitting on its hands for fear of liability instead of doing their jobs.
    All this stuff is current. And people refuse to treat trans folk like all the other minorities they’ve had to learn to respect in the past, cos apparently they can’t apply what theyve learnt, they gotta learn each new one just one at a time.
    Pretty dumb really.

    • I have several trans friends, One of which i stopped him from killing himself after being disowned by his parents for coming out. I gave him a place to stay while he got on his feet. He is one of my closest friends.

      You think trans people are all some hivemind with skin thin as tissue paper. I dont, I think trans people are normal human beings who can take a joke and think twitter loonies are that, twitter loonies.

      You want to know how you treat trans people with respect? By not treating them like they are fragile human beings. Treat them like actual human beings, Not zoo animals.

    • “They need to learn what punching up/down means”
      This was addressed in the special, that you obviously didnt watch.

    • It’s the overly aggressive and hyper defensive behaviour from groups on places like twitter which is causing push back from other minorities. You fart in their direction and they’re cancelling you, flinging death threats etc. Basically shutting you down for having a differing opinion. As soon as this hive mind shit stops, so will the retaliation. Things like this will always seek to be balanced.
      And the push back in large seems to be a counter argument to the “A trans woman is a real woman” opinion. Which is wrong… A woman is a woman, and a trans woman is a trans woman. They’re different, but each their own thing and both deserve respect as such. Painting an Apple orange doesn’t make it an Orange though.

      • Ask a Trans activist and they will tell you painting an apple orange makes it an orange if it suits their agenda and will cancel you if you disagree.

  • Lol this site is such a joke now. Half the articles are clickbait sponsored trash and the rest are articles like this. Thanks for the heads up about the special, looking forward to watching it.

    • It’s a shame there is no filter on this site that prevents people from having to see any article by easily triggered snowflake Luke himself. Kotaku can’t decide whether they want to be social justice keyboard warriors or a site devoted to reporting gaming news with a heavy slap of leftist coating. Seems the days of Kotaku just reporting gaming news in an unbiased fashion is long dead, just like in real world media I guess.

      Might be time to look elsewhere. Anyone recommend any other good gaming sites that is free from the sort of slanted biased “journalism” that Luke spews?

  • Glad to see finally a bunch of rational comments on an article like this.
    So sick of how Left media has become. We were well due for a correction, but the pendulum has swing way too far the other way now.

  • Comedy is almost entirely about crossing lines from the comedians perspective. That’s the whole art of stand up.

    This would be an exhaustive article to go into every comedian’s back catalogue and essentially call out comedians for making jokes about things someone agrees or disagrees with.

    I’m yet to read a counter to Dave’s comments about punching down, or his conclusion where he states that he’s not making anymore jokes about the LGBTQI+ community until we are laughing together because it seems that the majority of people criticising it haven’t even watched the whole thing.

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