This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
- Wondering if we’ll ever recover from Adele.
- Netflix’s preposterous reaction to Chappelle backlash.
- The most electric experience you’ll ever have with a movie trailer.
- Big news in the rare shared Venn diagram of superheroes and gays.
- An adrenaline shot of nostalgia.
The content of Dave Chappelle’s controversial stand-up special The Closer—the dangerous transphobia, the gaslighting, the false equivalence of marginalized communities, the erasure of intersectionality—wasn’t shocking so much as it was pedestrian, the most basic, unenlightened kind of “humor” about the LGBTQ community. (Read more about it here, here, and here.)
It was a doubling down on the same jokes he had made about trans and gay people that he received backlash for in at least four of his six Netflix specials, as if he berated us enough about how we “don’t get it” he’d eventually ascend to a new plane of irrefutable genius. It was an exercise in narcissism from someone with a bruised ego. How boring.
What is shocking, however, is Netflix’s response to the outcry over the special, which repeats language about the transgender community that has often been linked to anti-trans violence. In the initial aftermath, the streamer’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos essentially argued that controversy is good for the brand, as Chappelle’s specials rank among the service’s “stickiest,” aka most popular, offerings.
There have been demands for Netflix to take the special down. I don’t think that’s useful; I can’t think of anything worse than giving Chappelle and his fans “censorship” as ammunition, and I think there is value in letting this remain to expose the comedian for who he really is and how he really thinks. But that initial statement didn’t condemn any of the content, which is, in my opinion, necessary. Sarandos saw the complaints and then he saw the dollar signs, and he simply shrugged.
The brain-melting recent development, however, came late Wednesday night when a memo from Sarandos to his staff was released addressing how managers might react to employees distressed about The Closer. Nearly every sentence triggers another landmine of disbelief—he can’t really be saying this?—but it all boils down to this sentence: “While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”
Not only is he refusing to denounce anything in the special. Not only is he actually defending the special. He is mounting a full-on, rah-rah Free Speech manifesto around it. (You can read the full memo here.)
Taking a page from the Chappelle playbook, he is insinuating that, if you have a problem with this, it’s your problem. He’s spinning it into a sensitivity thing, a hurt-feelings thing, just as Chappelle does. But it’s not offense. It’s anger. Anger out of fear. A fear that is rooted in lifetimes of othering, oppression, violence, and shame. Those are facts, not feelings.
It seems that Sarandos has not bothered to watch the documentary Disclosure, a critically praised, award-winning film that makes the indisputable argument that the way the trans community is depicted and talked about on screen and in pop culture DIRECTLY TRANSLATES TO REAL-WORLD HARM. (Here’s just one clip you can watch as proof.) Where could Sarandos have watched this film? Oh, ON NETFLIX!!!
There’s also grotesque hypocrisy at play here. Obviously a cultural critic (ahem, hi) is going to argue that entertainment content matters in shaping society’s attitudes, ideas, and progress. But Sarandos himself argued just that about Chappelle’s special, too. In the same memo, he champions stand-up comedy because “the art by nature is highly provocative.”
This is a global juggernaut of content that basks in the accolades showered on it for its diversity, and pats itself on the back with internal divisions and social teams devoted to spotlighting marginalized communities, like “Most” and “Strong Black Lead.” But you can’t make the case that your content matters and is capable of doing good in the world while refuting the idea that it is also capable of doing harm.
How did this statement get out in this form? Was it Take Your Kindergartener to Work Day, and Netflix’s head of PR took the spirit of the occasion seriously? It boggles the mind that someone in the position of Sarandos felt he could get away, amidst all this controversy, with such blatant doublespeak and verbal sleight of hand.
Why has Netflix screwed this up so badly, suspended employees who have spoken out about it, refused to denounce the content, and is now releasing this egregious memo? Money. Like Chappelle, the refusal to take responsibility is a tactic.
Much of Chappelle’s output in recent years doubles as a panic attack that he and his celebrity friends are going to be canceled. (Meanwhile, the tens of millions he’s earning from these specials might outnumber the GDPs of small countries.)
Netflix doesn’t want to distract from its dominance. It has all the content you’ll ever need and all of it is perfect. This pesky little controversy is worrying you? Well, look over here: We have 70,000 other titles that might make you feel better, so stop complaining about this one and let us rake in the money it’s generating, OK?
Here’s the thing: Nothing will happen because of this. I watched Netflix yesterday. I’ll probably watch it tonight. What power do we have if not to watch Netflix? We’ll never. Tear the third Vanessa Hudgens Princess Switch movie from our cold, dead hands. I think that, if anything, is the most damning reality about all of this.
It was reported this past week that members of a trans employee resource group at Netflix were organizing a walkout on October 20. On Friday, The Verge reported that Netflix had fired the leader of the group. What was it that Chappelle said in The Closer? “Taking a man’s livelihood away is akin to killing him.”
All credit is given to writer and performer Jenny Yang for this, who brought it to my attention on social media. “Shh,” she wrote on Twitter, “(puts a soft finger on your lips) just watch this movie trailer without knowing the title and let the feeling move you.” The key, however, is to watch the video in a “Quote Tweet” (nevermind if you don’t know what that is… just watch it here), otherwise it gets spoiled for you.
I must warn you, though: Nothing will be the same once you do this.
There are only two timelines, two eras, two existences: the one before you watched this trailer for a film that stars Leslie Odom Jr., Cynthia Erivo, Orlando Bloom, and Freida Pinto and involves time-traveling romance, and the one after. I am a changed person. There have been formative events in my life: My birth. Going to college. Coming out. Falling in love. Heartbreak. Meeting Meryl Streep. And now, When I Learned What the Title of This Orlando Bloom Movie Was.
I know it might seem like I am exaggerating about this. I promise you I am not.
It’s a good trailer. You will be moved. You will think, “I would like to see this film.” You will be so rapt, so emotionally fixated on the video playing before you that, when the movie title pops up at the end, you might actually scream and jump with such volcanic force that you’ll knock the chair you’re sitting on over—not unlike one of those chain-letter pranks where a shrieking ghost pops up on the screen that have taken anywhere between seven and 23 years off my life in the past.
I would like to take this moment to apologize as well to the entire human race. I squealed so intensely at such a high pitch when the title was revealed that the sound wave pierced the space-time continuum, as has been detected by aliens in another dimension. Thanks to this film trailer and this movie title, I have completely blown up our spot. Now the aliens are coming, and for that I am sorry.
The new Superman in the DC Comics series will be gay, or perhaps bisexual, Tom Taylor, the writer of the series, said this week. The announcement coincided with National Coming Out Day, as well as an insidious campaign on behalf of Big Pharma’s blood pressure medication companies targeting conservative commentators and those who DVR Fox News, all of whom are reported to have developed instantaneous hypertension at the revelation.
The son of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, Jon, who is the new Superman, will enter a romantic relationship with a male friend. It is a welcome gesture of diversity and, you know, dose of reality in this year 2021.
What great news, thought I, a person who has never and will never read these comics. What an abomination, a disgrace to a hallowed cultural icon, and evidence of the devilish gay agenda coming to pervert all aspects of American life, thought many commenters, most of whom have never and will never read these comics. Funny how that works!
In any case, fuck you to anyone who thinks this isn’t a nice thing. But if there is one thing we can agree on as a nation, it is that someone needs to teach poor Jon how to kiss.
This photo of season two of Peacock’s Saved By the Bell reboot (a surprisingly perfect show) arrived this week, a treat to delight you—Look! Lark Voorhies/Lisa Turtle is there, too!—and also to remind you that you are very old.
Succession: Our favorite horrible humans, back at last—plus, the new season is great. (Sun. on HBO)
Introducing Selma Blair: The actress tracks the impact of her Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis on her body and her family, and would you believe that it’s incredibly moving? (Fri. in theaters)
The Halloween Kills Kyle Richards Scene: Iconic cinema. (Fri. in theaters and on Peacock)
The Rest of Halloween Kills: Meh. (Fri. in theaters and on Peacock)
I Know What You Did Last Summer: Another film-to-TV reboot with even less of a point! (Fri. on Amazon)
What Happened, Brittany Murphy?: Absolute trash. No matter how curious you are, do not watch. (Fri. on HBO Max)