Ted Sarandos Defends Transphobic Hate Speech

Ted Sarandos arrives on the red carpet of The 92nd Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, CA on Sunday, February 9, 2020. (Richard Harbaugh/©A.M.P.A.S.)

Once again, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos has dug himself into a deeper hole by tripling down in his defense of transphobic hate speech.

Or maybe it is quadrupling down. To be honest, I’ve lost count. This doesn’t even begin to include my own encounter with the Netflix executive back in March. You can bet that words were exchanged between the two of us. I made my feelings known as an open and visible transgender woman. Sarandos, once again, defended his views. I walked away before my blood pressure could rise any further. That’s the thing with Sarandos. He does not understand why transphobic hate speech is harmful and not funny. Take it from me: I entered the hospital as a result of weeks of transphobic abuse online from the fans of Chappelle and in addition to a known comedian sending me a very transphobic email.

The new comments come by way of an interview with Maureen Dowd at the New York Times.

But Mr. Sarandos said that, while he was taken by surprise at the kerfuffle, he did not agonize over supporting Mr. Chappelle. He said that the only way comedians can figure out where the line is, is by “crossing the line every once in a while. I think it’s very important to the American culture generally to have free expression.”

He continued: “We’re programming for a lot of diverse people who have different opinions and different tastes and different styles, and yet we’re not making everything for everybody. We want something for everybody but everything’s not going to be for everybody.”

Because of Sarandos coming to the defense of Chappelle, conservatives are rallying around him. Interestingly, they are also the same people threatened to drop Netflix following the premiere of Cuties a few years ago.

“It used to be a very liberal issue, so it’s an interesting time that we live in.”

He added, “I always said if we censor in the U.S., how are we going to defend our content in the Middle East?”

Calling out hate speech is not censorship! I wonder how Sarandos would have worked going up against the likes of Joseph Breen and the Production Code Administration. Breen is the same person who did not want movies to offend Nazi sympathizers both in the US and abroad! See page 58 in Thomas Doherty’s Hollywood and Hitler: 1933-1939. If Sarandos wants to discuss censorship, he could look at the work of the Breen office and how they censored films so as to not offend people who were pro-German in the years leading to World War II. Breen also didn’t think it was right for American movies taking sides during the Spanish Civil War, which preceded World War II. Even now, we have American studios willing to drop LGBTQ scenes just to get a release in anti-LGBTQ countries. But I digress.

Listen, I value my relationship with Netflix, especially the publicists. But when it comes to covering Netflix, Ted Sarandos is not making my job any easier. He singlehandedly ruined my birthday week in October by defending Dave Chappelle and than doubling down. Every time Netflix releases a new special from Dave Chappelle or Ricky Gervais, it makes me rethink whether I should continue covering Netflix. Coming and leaving every month is a valuable public service that I provide but again, how many people are continuing to drop their Netflix subscriptions as a way of supporting their transgender friends and family members.

Comedy in 2022 is not what it was in the 1990s. Hell, it isn’t even what it was back in the 1950s or 1960s. A comedian like Don Rickles could not survive in this current era because of his being an insult comic. Insult comedy just isn’t funny right now. The thing that Sarandos just doesn’t understand is that punching down is not funny. This is what both Chappelle and Gervais are doing during their comedy sets. Ted, please listen to me when I say that punching down at marginalized communities is not fucking funny. It really isn’t. This is not a question of censorship. It’s about being on the right fucking side of history. And so, once again, I ask of Ted Sarandos: which side do you want to be on? The side of transphobic hate speech or being against comedy that punches down.

I have no doubt that Netflix will survive their recent stock issues. I think that they need to resolve the question of quality vs. quantity though. Every week as I peruse what films to request, I’m hedging my bets over what’s going to get traffic. Depending on the film, critics might not even seek it out just because of how many titles are dropping weekly. However, the defense of transphobic hate speech is not doing anybody any favors. As long as Ted Sarandos keeps defending transphobic hate speech, Netflix will not earn any supporters and will continue to lose money. All you need to do is look at the screenshots on social media after every transphobic special.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.