Netflix CEO adds gas to transphobia fire with another unrepentant memo

Comparing transphobic jokes to first-person shooter games didn't exactly help Ted Sarandos' case.

LYON, FRANCE - OCTOBER 09: Ted Sarandos  attend sthe opening ceremony during the 13th Film Festival ...
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In the midst of a firestorm of criticism over his company’s handling of Dave Chapelle’s transphobic jokes, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos has decided the best course of action is to send more bigoted all-staff emails. His latest exposition somehow manages to be even less helpful than the first.

Sarandos sent a memo to the entire Netflix staff late last week after activist groups and the internet writ large called for the streaming service to remove Chapelle’s latest comedy special, The Closer, from its platform. In that email, Sarandos said Chapelle’s special didn’t cross the line into being “designed to incite hate or violence,” and thus the company would absolutely not be wiping it from the servers.

Now Sarandos’ second email, sent Monday to all Netflix employees, has been revealed in its entirety by Variety. It manages, somehow, to be even less comforting than the first.

“Our goal is to entertain the world, which means programming for a diversity of tastes,” Sarandos writes. Apparently, transphobia counts as a diverse taste, now.

This metaphor though… — It’s worth reading Sarandos’ memo in its entirety just to understand how deeply the co-CEO is digging his heels into the dirt. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on just one section, where Sarandos attempts to explain why Chapelle’s transphobic jokes do not “directly translate to real-world harm.”

Here’s Sarandos after a couple of paragraphs of introduction:

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.

The problem with this metaphor is very simple: Transphobia and first-person shooters are not equivalent. Not even close. And, in fact, by attempting to compare the two, Sarandos ends up playing right into one of the most major tenants of transphobia — which is to assert that it’s not really a problem at all.

Maybe it’s time to shut up? — After his failed metaphor, Sarandos goes on — without even a paragraph break — to say Netflix is “working hard to ensure marginalized communities aren’t defined by a single story.” He then rattles off a list of Netflix titles with LGBTQ characters as if this somehow makes Chapelle’s jokes any less transphobic.

Sarandos’ decision to ostensibly choose “free speech” over the protection of an entire community of people, including his own employees, was damning enough. Doubling down on the assertion with ridiculous metaphors has only made the situation worse.

The trans employee resource group at Netflix is planning a company-wide walkout on October 20. We can only hope that kind of action prompts Sarandos and other executives to reconsider their position on this crisis. In the meantime, Ted, might we suggest you cool it on the all-staff memos?