Netflix CEO says transphobia on-screen ‘doesn’t translate to real-world harm’. He’s wrong

Dave Chappelle's special The Closer is still being defended by Netflix.

Netflix is still defending its decision to continue streaming Dave Chappelle’s latest special despite many deriding it as transphobic – and LGBT+ group GLAAD is the latest to hit back.

The streaming giant is now claiming that video content has no real-world impact, amid continuing controversy over Chappelle’s show The Closer, which was released 5 October.

This came from Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, who said that on-screen content doesn’t result in “real-world harm” – a claim swiftly refuted by LGBT+ advocacy group GLAAD.

“GLAAD was founded 36 years ago because media representation has consequences for LGBTQ people,” the group said in a statement.

“Authentic media stories about LGBTQ lives have been cited as directly responsible for increasing public support for issues like marriage equality,” GLAAD said.

It continued: “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 colour.

“Ironically, the documentary Disclosure on Netflix demonstrates this quite clearly.”

GLAAD was responding to a leaked memo dated Monday (11 October) in which Sarandos told staff that “while some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm”.

He continued: “The strongest evidence to support this is that violence on screens has grown hugely over the last 30 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.”

Sarandos’ claims come in the same week that Black trans man Mel Groves was shot dead in Mississippi, making him the 39th trans person to be violently killed in the US in 2021.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, which tracks fatal violence against trans and gender non-conforming people in the US, this year is set to be the deadliest yet for trans people, amid an “epidemic” of violence against trans people. The majority of those killed are Black and Latinx trans women.

In The Closer, Chappelle – who is is reportedly making at least $20 million per special with Netflix – makes explicit jokes about trans women’s genitals and defend DaBaby and JK Rowling, before declaring himself “Team TERF“.

As Black trans comedian Dahlia Belle wrote for The Guardian, “the marginalisation, mockery, dehumanisation, and violence many of us face everyday of most of our lives is what fuels our despair”. Trans comedians have been quick to point out that they are not offended by jokes about trans people, but that Chappelle’s special contains “dangerously transphobic content“.

As Netflix continues to defend itself, trans employees are planning a company-wide walkout for 20 October.