The LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD on Wednesday publicly rebuked Netflix boss Ted Sarandos over a leaked memo in which he defended the company’s decision to continue streaming Dave Chappelle’s latest comedy special despite uproar over its transphobic commentary by claiming that “content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”
“GLAAD was founded 36 years ago because media representation has consequences for LGBTQ people. Authentic media stories about LGBTQ lives have been cited as directly responsible for increasing public support for issues like marriage equality,” GLAAD said in a statement. “But film and TV have also been filled with stereotypes and misinformation about us for decades, leading to real world harm, especially for trans people and LGBTQ people of color.”
GLAAD added that Netflix last year released a documentary called “Disclosure,” about Hollywood’s impact on the trans community, that the group said demonstrates this quite clearly.”
In Sarandos’ memo, first published by Variety and dated Monday, he amplified remarks he’d already made in defense of the comedy special. He first noted that Netflix serves “a diversity of tastes” as it entertains “the world,” and reiterated previous statements defending “artistic freedom to help attract the best creators and push back on government and other censorship requests.”
Sarandos acknowledged that criticism about “The Closer” “is not about offensive-to-some content but titles which could increase real-world harm (such as further marginalizing already marginalized groups, hate, violence etc.),” but said, “we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”
To back that statement, Sarandos cited the popularity of violent video games despite the historic plummeting of real-world violence. “Adults can watch violence, assault and abuse – or enjoy shocking stand-up comedy – without it causing them to harm others,” Sarandos said in the memo. “We are working hard to ensure marginalized 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.”
The documentary “Disclosure,” however, makes a crucial distinction between what Sarandos says about video games, and what critics of projects like “The Closer” are arguing.
In “Disclosure,” “Orange Is the New Black” star Laverne Cox cites a GLAAD study that 80% of Americans don’t personally known any trans people. “So most of the information that Americans get about who transgender people are, what our lives are and are about, comes from the media.
See that point in the trailer for “Disclosure” below:
Netflix declined to comment on GLAAD’s statement or provide a copy of the memo, citing the fact that it was leaked.
The backlash against “The Closer” has come even from Netflix employees; an undetermined number of trans employees and allies will be staging a walkout in protest on Oct. 20.