Netflix Doubles Down on 'Free Speech' as Trans Activists Vow to Fight On

Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos doubled down on "free speech" as the company continues facing criticism from LGBTQ activists over content deemed offensive against the transgender community.

The company has faced criticism since last fall from LGBTQ advocates who took issue with jokes in a special from comedian Dave Chappelle. Those concerns were reignited this month after a new show from comedian Ricky Gervais also featured offensive remarks against the transgender community, again landing Netflix at the center of discourse surrounding the balance between free speech and respecting the rights of marginalized groups.

Sarandos defended Netflix against the backlash in an interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd that was published Saturday, and explained that he believes the only way comedians can learn what content is offensive 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 said.

Ted Sarandos defends controversial shows
Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos defended the inclusion of content LGBTQ advocates have said is transphobic in a New York Times interview published Saturday. Above, Sarandos is seen in Hollywood on February 9, 2020. Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images

He defended the content by saying the company is producing content for "a lot of diverse people who have different opinions and different tastes and different styles" and that "everything's not going to be for everybody."

Last October, transgender Netflix employees staged a company-wide protest over Chappelle's special, accusing the company of "releasing content that harms the Trans community and continually failing to create content that represents and uplifts Trans content."

However, the company's higher-ups have consolidated support around Chappelle. In an internal memo earlier this month, the company advised that employees who cannot work on the "breadth" of their content, "Netflix may not be the best place for you."

"As employees we support the principle that Netflix offers a diversity of stories, even if we find some titles counter to our own personal values," the memo, first reported by Variety, read.

Sarandos told Dowd his decision to support Chappelle "wasn't hard."

"It was an opportunity to take somebody, like in Dave's case, who is, by all measure, the comedian of our generation, the most popular comedian on Netflix for sure," he said. "Nobody would say that what he does isn't thoughtful or smart. You just don't agree with him. "

His latest remarks were met with some criticism on social media, where advocates for transgender rights continued pushing for changes to the way the company handles offensive content.

"I'm sure that if it was @netflix CEO Ted Sarandos's kids being bullied, attacked, or murdered by transphobes that he would change his tune on allowing Netflix content to support bigotry in a heartbeat," tweeted sociologist Dr. DaShanne Stokes.

"For people in back, freedom of speech IS NOT right to a platform. If Gervais & Chappelle want yell their transphobic bigotry into a void, fine. Also, screw you Netflix. Constantly supporting transphobes is a s***** hill to die on. And you are dying," wrote Youtuber Jessie Earl.

Sarandos has previously defended the controversial content from Netflix. Last year, he told The Hollywood Reporter that he believes "the inclusion of the special on Netflix is consistent with our comedy offering, it's consistent with Dave Chappelle's comedy brand and this of those times when there's something on Netflix that you're not going to like."

Newsweek reached out to Netflix for comment.