We all know who Dave Chappelle is. Going back as far as the 1990s, Chappelle has been one of the United States’ most prominent comedians – going on to achieve a level of international stardom and fame (and wealth) that any comedian would be respectful, as well as envious, of. Yet, he has become something of a “shock” comedian; throwing out jokes which can be either hilarious or downright insulting and damaging. In the past, he has been accused of being misogynistic and anti-trans and it should come as no surprise, then, that he is in hot water once more over his Netflix comedy special The Closer, which was released on October 5th, 2021.
The Closer: Controversy in Abundance
Morgan Freeman wants to talk to you about Dave Chappelle.
The Closer premieres at midnight. pic.twitter.com/htt2fYS2zx
— Netflix (@netflix) October 4, 2021
In the special – a stand-up type show where Chappelle entertains the audience with his typical brand of brash and provocative jokes – Chappelle declares that he is on “Team TERF” (essentially “Team Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) and that “gender is a fact”. This is in-line with previous comments and jokes made by Chappelle, as he has previously supported ex-President Donald Trump’s (now over-turned) ban on trans people serving in the U.S. Military and that he “didn’t want a woman with a d**k” in the urinal next to him. This has, of course, drawn notable criticism – these comments are not “jokes”; they are deliberate attempts to offend a growing community under constant threat of having rights denied and stripped away by world leaders and anti-trans activists. Additionally, they are part of a larger problem; the problem of an outdated worldview not in-line with 21st century thinking.
In allowing this joke to air, Netflix has created numerous problems for (most importantly) trans people, but also the company itself. Understandably, Netflix’s airing of the comedy special – as well as Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos initially doubling down on the decision in defense of Chappelle – has led to mass outrage, walkouts and even protests outside the Netflix HQ. Prime-time Netflix stars, such as Queer Eye‘s Jonathan Van Ness and The Good Place‘s Jameela Jamil, have been deeply critical of Netflix and Chappelle, as well as heavily involved in the protests.
Dave Chappelle has admitted to finding the whole thing amusing; declaring that “if this is what being cancelled is about, I love it.” Refusing to own up to one’s own disruptive actions and jumping to the “I’m being cancelled” defense is almost a bad joke in itself; Dave Chappelle is not being “cancelled”. Being held to account for one’s own views does not equate to being “cancelled”. Chappelle is still going to sell-out almost any venue he performs in and he knows this – so his claim of being cancelled is a deliberate attempt to rally fans behind him.
Hannah Gadsby is slamming Netflix's co-CEO Ted Sarandos after he referenced her in a memo defending Dave Chappelle's controversial comedy special: "F–k you and your amoral algorithm cult." https://t.co/haHnCTetOu pic.twitter.com/vvp3mVw77R
— Variety (@Variety) October 15, 2021
Netflix CEO, Ted Sarandos, has somewhat backtracked on his original statement – which was sent to various Netflix staff in the form of a memo. Whereas he maintains that comedy requires an extra layer of “freedom”, he also acknowledges that the initial statement lacked “humanity” and recognizes how it could be deemed as offensive to the trans and larger LGBTQ+ community. He also states that Netflix has become so impossibly ginormous that it is a necessary truth that it is going to have to screen content which does not please everyone – as its global fan base have different tastes and beliefs.
“The challenge that Netflix has is to entertain the world and part of that challenge means that you’ve got audiences with various taste, various sensibilities, various beliefs…You really can’t please everybody or the content would be pretty dull. And we do tell our employees upfront that we are trying to entertain our members, and that some of the content on Netflix you’re not going to like… this kind of commitment to artistic expression and free artistic expression is sometimes in conflict with people feeling protected and safe.”
Whereas it is perfectly understandable that Netflix and Sarandos are in a tough position, more needed to be done to ensure the safety of trans and gender non-conforming people. There is clear evidence which suggests that crimes against trans and gender non-conformists have been rising year-on-year. It does not help matters, then, when high-profile comedians (such as Chappelle) or, indeed, former U.S. Presidents, so publicly deny the right to exist for this community and the people – millions strong – within it. For Netflix to play a role in these ever-growing attacks on the community is problematic, especially when it has the power to play the opposite role; a powerful, engaging and educative role which leads to more coming to accept and respect trans and gender non-conforming people. If Netflix cannot recognize the hurt and damage it has caused and prevent further incidents, then maybe it is time for it to step aside.
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