“All philanthropy today,” Netflix’s Reed Hastings said Monday at the Milken Conference after moderator and CNBC correspondent Julia Boorstin lamented that she wasn’t able to ask the co-CEO about the Dave Chappelle backlash, earnings or anything else related to the streamer.
Staying strictly on message, Hastings today adamantly refused to answer to queries about the controversy around Chappelle’s The Closer special.
“It’s a no comment, we are really focused today on what we can do for kids around the country,” the exec replied straight-faced to “good reporter” Boorstin’s repeated questioning about the “elephant in the room.”
The closest Hastings would come to discussing the source of his wealth and the state of the streamer today was to declare that he “wished education was as easy to disrupt as it was easy to disrupt entertainment …turns out taking on Disney and others is easier than disrupting education.”
“All the problems we have today are problems our parents and grandparents couldn’t fix,” Hastings, a former teacher, pontificated about his emphasis on education and big-bucks donations.
“It’s the racism of familiarity,” the exec added of his shift from traditional giving and focusing on HBCUs as well as charter schools, which led to he and spouse Patricia Ann Quillin donating $120 million last year to the United Negro College Fund, Morehouse College and Spelman College. “The racism in our society just swims all around us …you might not see it.”
The deflected panel remarks at the annual well-heeled confab Monday come at a potentially pivotal time for deep-pocketed Hastings, co-CEP Ted Sarandos and Netflix.
Facing a backlash over widely perceived transphobic pronouncements and other remarks about the LGBTQ+ community by Dave Chappelle in his October 5-launching special The Closer, his sixth for the platform, Netflix brass have dug in with their defense of the Mark Twain Prize winner. As trans staffers and a growing contingent of others plan a Wednesday walkout over the special, leaked documents reveal the controversy-embracing Chappelle has been paid $24.1 million, there have been firings, suspensions (since rescinded) and outcry from advocacy groups and talent like National Black Justice Coalition, GLAAD, former Dear White People co-showrunner Jaclyn Moore and comedian Hannah Gadsby.
After a second bottom line-focused statement from Sarandos on the growing fallout, Nanette star Gadsby blasted the exec and the company Friday. “You didn’t pay me nearly enough to deal with the real-world consequences of the hate speech dog whistling you refuse to acknowledge, Ted,” wrote Gadsby on social media. “F**k you and your amoral algorithm cult… I do sh*ts with more back bone than you. That’s just a joke! I definitely didn’t cross a line because you just told the world there isn’t one.”
While Sarandos was the public face of Netflix’s defense of Chappelle and the streamer’s refusal to remove The Closer, as the NBJC’s executive director had demanded, Hastings was in lock-step in internal discussions about the frayed matter. “To your macro question on being on the right side of history, we will always continue to reflect on the tensions between freedom and safety,” Hastings wrote on an internal company message board last week when asked whether Netflix was “making the wrong historical choice around hate speech.”
“I do believe that our commitment to artistic expression and pleasing our members is the right long-term choice for Netflix, and that we are on the right side, but only time will tell,” Hastings added in his posting to staffers.
Today there was none of that in Hastings’ semi-Libertarianism talk at the Milken Conference.
At least not facing a strike action from IATSE, Monday’s appearance on the “Breaking from the Status Quo” panel with Chicago Beyond CEO Liz Dozier and moderator Boorstin still finds billionaire Hastings — who has long handed out huge sums to groups, causes and politicians he and his spouse and On the Record EP Quillin support — on the eve of a much-anticipated earnings report from Netflix on Tuesday.
The last quarterly report in July saw the Squid Game streamer fail to reach its own outlook as well as that of Wall Street analysts in an increasingly crowded digital environment.
Netflix stock closed today at $637.97, up 1.5%, as investors continued to bet on the streaming giant’s upside.
The stock has hit all-time highs over the past month, with most analysts expecting a stronger showing when the company reports third-quarter earnings tomorrow. After a disappointing second-quarter in terms of subscriber gains, momentum has returned with Korean produced blood drenched Squid Game, which is now the most watched original for the streamer ever, and a move into video games and merchandising.
One topic unlikely to come up during the earnings interview is actually the Chappelle controversy, given the fact that streaming numbers have continued to be strong despite the PR hit.
Dade Hayes contributed to this report.