Why Netflix’s Defense of Dave Chappelle Is a Game Changer
The liberal streamer looked ready to fold before embracing the comedy superstar
Netflix, like most major platforms these days, leans to the left.
Corporations, more often than not today, do the same.
Sam Brownback called on woke corporations like Coca-Cola and AirBnb to pull their advertising dollars out of the Beijing Winter Olympics amid their numerous human rights violations. https://t.co/T0cRxR8C0G
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) December 13, 2021
That means preaching the woke gospel on social media and, occasionally, apologizing for wrong think, past or present.
So when the woke mob demanded Netflix apologize for airing Dave Chappelle’s latest button-pushing special, “The Closer,” it was easy to predict what would happen next.
- A mewling apology
- “The Closer” would not be on Netflix much longer
- Vows to be a better “ally” to the LGBTQ+ cause
And, for a few days, it appeared Netflix would follow that template to a “T.” Except it never fully happened.
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We all know that Chappelle’s 2021 stand-up special featured jokes involving the trans community. The comic shared nuanced views on trans people, including a long, heartfelt tribute to a trans woman he once invited to open up for him in San Francisco.
Chappelle also noted that everyone in the audience had entered the world through a woman’s legs, along with other comments that a small group of trans activists dubbed “transphobic.”
A cultural firestorm ensued.
Netflix initially threw its support behind Chappelle but, days later, partially backpedaled.
“I screwed up,” Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos said, suggesting the inevitable Apology Tour had begun.
The media, in turn, put as much pressure on Netflix as possible to sever ties with Chappelle and/or remove the special from its platform. They amplified every critic’s charge against Chappelle, inflated the so-called worker walkout tied to the kerfuffle and all but suggested Chappelle better not tell similar jokes again.
And no other comic should, either.
Some outlets blatantly lied to keep that anti-Chappelle narrative afloat.
Yet Netflix didn’t cave.
Maybe in 2020 it might have. That year’s George Floyd protests gave Cancel Culture its greatest boost to date. Since then, we’ve seen flickers of rebellion against the woke orthodoxy, from J.K. Rowling refusing to bow to her critics to select comedians fighting back against attempts to silence them.
Netflix’s latest moves suggest it’s ready for future culture war fights. The streamer recently announced a new series of comedy specials (Netflix Is a Joke: The Festival) featuring 130 comics … including Chappelle.
It doesn’t take a journalism professor to glean the far-Left Hollywood Reporter’s anger at the move.
The special was widely blasted as transphobic, and Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos was criticized for his defense of the special, later admitting, “I screwed up” by not being more sensitive to Netflix employees’ feelings about the content, while still defending the program as “consistent with our comedy offering, it’s consistent with Dave Chappelle’s comedy brand and this is … one of those times when there’s something on Netflix that you’re not going to like.”
And yet the latest Netflix-Chappelle news has gained little press attention so far.
The far-Left Variety spoke with Netflix’s Film Chief, Scott Stuber, on a number of issues including the platform’s ties with Chappelle. The article hinted at that part of the conversation in the headline, burying the revelations deep in the Q&A.
Stuber said of “The Closer,” “there’s always going to be aspects of entertainment that some people have a problem with or offends them.”
That doesn’t mean you shut down those exchanges, he added
“I think if you look, unfortunately, at us politically in this country right now, we’re yelling at each other about our differences instead of talking to each other,” Stuber says. “And I think that’s an imperative when it comes to controversy of any kind, that we communicate with each other. And I think that’s something they were learning as a company and continue to evolve with.”
Stuber continued, calling Chappelle an artist eager to “provoke and make people think about things.” That, in turn, yields commentary that is both “sharp” and “thoughtful.”
That is a full-bodied defense of both an artist in general and Chappelle in particular.
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Chappelle is currently touring his untitled documentary to cities nationwide (including the august Kennedy Center in D.C.), with tickets selling briskly along the way.
That means the documentary won’t be available for streaming services like Netflix now, but it still could grace the platform, according to Stuber.
“And if he did want to have the conversation about it, we would have the conversation. So it’s really about when and if he decides what he wants to do with it in the next iteration. And if he wants to have the conversation about what it means to sell it and distribute it, we will have that conversation with him.”
Translation: We’re still in the Dave Chappelle business, no matter what the mob says.
The article also indicates Chappelle is committed to two more Netflix comedy specials. That’s either incorrect given recent reports that “The Closer” wrapped his current ties to the company, or news that the two parties agreed to even more specials together.
It’s important not to view this saga as an unfettered free speech victory. The cultural forces that waged war against Chappelle will do so again against the next comic who tells challenging jokes about a “protected” group.
Several film festivals canceled their planned screenings of the Chappelle film, too.
Still, what Netflix did struck a small, but powerful blow against those forces. That suggests the next time an artist has a challenging story to tell he or she has a better chance of keeping their livelihoods intact.
And, in turn, it may embolden a fellow platform to stand behind its artist once the woke mob attacks anew.