Freedom of expression or hate speech? Netflix in turmoil in the United States

published on Monday, October 18, 2021 at 8:30 a.m.

Netflix found itself immersed in a heated debate over freedom of expression in the United States after the broadcast of a show by famous comedian Dave Chappelle deemed transphobic by some, including employees within the streaming company.

In his show “The Closer”, the stand-up star responds to critics who have accused him in the past of making fun of transgender people, saying that “gender is a fact” and that his critics are ” too sensitive “.

“In our country you can shoot and kill ‘a black man,’ but don’t you dare offend a gay person,” says Dave Chappelle, who is himself black.

The show was condemned by some LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer) groups such as GLAAD, which recalled the existence of studies showing that the dissemination of stereotypes about minorities had dire consequences in the real world. .

Netflix defends the comedian for the moment, and refused to remove the show from the platform.

But the streaming giant finds itself unwillingly caught up in what is arguably the biggest controversy that has rocked it so far.

Dave Chappelle remains very popular, an asset for Netflix against its competitors HBO and Disney. Price of “The Closer”: 24 million dollars, the artist having pointed out the attraction which he represented for the subscribers of the service.

But the controversy raises a larger question about freedom of expression, and the role of entertainment giants like Netflix in this regard.

“Netflix is ​​no longer the small company that sends DVDs, it is a vast producer of content,” which spends billions of dollars to feed its platform, underlines Stephen Galloway, of the film and media arts department of the Chapman University, California.

“This is the real first public test” for Netflix, he said. “And they planted their flag on the side of freedom of expression, rather than that of its regulation.”

– Release planned –

In “The Closer”, Dave Chappelle compares a transgender woman to a person blackening her face (the “blackface”), and jokes by threatening to kill a woman and then put her body in his car.

In a memo to employees, Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s co-executive director in charge of content, said that what was shown “on the screen did not translate directly into harmful consequences in the real world”, and that the principle of freedom of expression outweighed any perceived contempt, including by its own employees.

But a group of employees are planning a walkout this week to protest Netflix’s handling of the crisis.

An employee was fired for posting confidential information about the rate requested by Dave Chappelle.

“We understand that the gesture of this employee was motivated by a feeling of disappointment and sorrow against Netflix, but maintaining a culture of trust and transparency is at the heart of our business,” responded the platform.

Ted Sarandos also argued for the dissemination of other content, such as that of Hannah Gadsby, whose show “Nanette” recounted her experience of homophobia as a lesbian woman.

She responded with a murderous post on Instagram, addressed to the manager and criticizing his “cult of an amoral algorithm”.

– Fracture lines –

The case of Dave Chappelle is made complex by the intertwining of different struggles: he is accused of attacking one minority, but himself repeatedly emphasizes belonging to another.

“The show draws its energy from one of the most heated debates in pop culture, over competing claims of victimization,” journalist Helen Lewis wrote in The Atlantic magazine.

Some draw a parallel with the controversy surrounding “Harry Potter” author JK Rowling last year. She had been accused of transphobia by speaking of the erasure of “the concept of sex”. “If the sex is not real, the reality experienced by women around the world is erased,” she said.

If the writer emphasized the importance of protecting the safety of women, Dave Chappelle shares his experience as a black man.

According to him, white gay men “are part of a minority until they need to be white again.” And LGBTQ communities have made more progress in a few years than blacks in decades, he points out.

“There are a lot of fault lines here,” says Stephen Galloway. “Each could go gaping and create an earthquake.”

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