The Netflix Special that Brought Netflix Closer to Being Cancelled

Martha Wyatt-Luth

Staff Writer ‘25

 Since the beginning of October, internal concerns from employees have risen over comedian Dave Chapelle’s sixth special, “The Closer,” for being transphobic and offensive to the LGBTQ+ community. When it seemed company executives were unwavering in their decision to keep the show, employees took to social media to call them out. 

    In an era of “cancel culture,” there is no way Netflix would get out of this situation unscathed. A software engineer at Netflix tweeted that Chapelle’s new special “attacks the trans community, and the very validity of transness.”Ted Sarandos, co-CEO, overruled internal opposition, claiming the special would be too prevalent to be squashed by minority dissent. He reasoned, “There will always be content on Netflix some people believe is harmful.” Sarandos was not wrong in his expectation of its success. Potentially even due to its controversy, “The Closer” was within the top five most popular programs on Netflix in its debut week. 

     Shortly after its successful release, Netflix fired an unnamed employee and suspended several others with rumors of a planned walkout to occur on Wednesday, Oct. 20. However, Netflix defends that the firing was instead caused by a leak of “confidential, commercially sensitive information” in a Bloomberg News article published on Oct. 13. 

   Sarandos may claim that “The Closer’s” huge success is a reason to not take the program down, but it could be argued that the bigger this show becomes, the more reason it should be taken down. Should watching a show mean viewers agree with the morals of that show? Likewise, does buying a certain piece of clothing mean we agree with the morals of that brand? Generally, the belief is yes because it means we are funding the business to continue producing that product. The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) criticized Dave Chapelle and Netflix for their insensitive release during “the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the United States—the majority of whom are Black transgender people.” Furthermore, the show’s popularity could imply that society generally accepts such discriminatory and hateful sentiments. 

   Netflix has promoted itself as a progressive platform with many new LGBTQ+ friendly shows including their own originals. Ironically, Netflix streams the movie “Disclosure,” produced just last year, which is an eye-opening, empathetic perspective on the trans community within Hollywood. Chapelle has made no comment connecting the two films, but it is quite a juxtaposition. Actors from Netflix specials are starting to speak out against the decision to keep Chapelle’s new special. With Chapelle’s dehumanizing comment “I’m not that fond of these newer gays — too sensitive, too brittle. I miss the old-school gays,” it’s hard to turn a blind eye. Chappelle’s currently lucrative special could lead to the costly pulling of countless LGBTQ+ supportive specials on Netflix. 

    In recent decades, the LGBTQ+ community has gained important legislative strides in its fight for equality. If the government is in favor of such a movement, should it permit such inflammatory shows to air? Despite priding ourselves on our first amendment to speak freely, censorship of artistic expression is not new in the United States. There are countless books and films that are currently, or have been at one point, banned in the United States. Some reasons include the glorification of crime, racist content, and political propaganda. There is no reason that anti-LGBTQ+ commentary should be excluded from this list. 

   However, complete censorship of the program may not be effective. First off, Chapelle could certainly argue that his first amendment is being violated, but he can still say whatever he chooses to without having it be on a Netflix special. In the end, it’s in the hands of Netflix to choose what is acceptable to include on its platform and what values it stands behind. Secondly, censorship of the special may make it seem more interesting to consumers. Lastly, it also gives Chapelle an easy “out” for not having to publicly confront his inflammatory language. The audience should know the true colors of the comedian they are watching and, therefore, supporting. 

    A compromise could be agreed to edit out the part of the comedy special where Chappelle says such inflammatory comments. There could also be a trigger warning included in the beginning of the show and on the show’s description. Chapelle could jointly publicly state an apology to the LGBTQ+ community and agree to not say such comments in future comedy shows. However, this seems unlikely with Chappelle currently basking in the glory of this controversy. During L.A’s sold-out Hollywood Bowl, Chappelle commented, “If this is what being canceled is like, I love it.” Followed by roaring applause, it seems an apology from Chapelle is not forthcoming. 

    Netflix remains unwavering on the belief that Chapelle’s comments “do not incite hate.”  This strategy of avoiding responsibility has the sole objective of maximizing profits. The company executives fall on both sides of the LGBTQ+ movement and make no definitive stance when it actually matters. Furthermore, it is up to consumers on how to engage with such entertainment. With streaming giants Disney and Hulu on its heels, condemnation from Netflix consumers could be quite influential in the longevity of the company’s loyalty to Chapelle.

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