“If you’d find it hard to support our content breadth,” reads the new Netflix corporate manifesto; “Netflix may not be the best place for you.”
The last major update to the Netflix corporate culture values statement came in 2017. Before that, it was a 125-slide presentation in 2009.
By 2017, the corporate manifesto was filled with gems like; “Our version of the great workplace is not comprised of sushi lunches, great gyms, big offices, or frequent parties. Our version of the great workplace is a dream team in pursuit of ambitious common goals, for which we spend heavily.”
And, “On a dream team, there are no ‘brilliant jerks.’ The cost to teamwork is just too high. Our view is that brilliant people are also capable of decent human interactions, and we insist upon that.”
Of course, in 2017, Netflix also asked its employees to, “be curious about how our different backgrounds affect us at work, rather than pretending they don’t affect us,” and, “recognize we all have biases, and work to grow past them,” and, “intervene if someone else is being marginalized.”
Even in 2017, however, there were a few warning signs for any would-be-woke troublemakers and the easily-triggered.
“We model ourselves on being a team, not a family,” warned the corporate memo in 2017. “A family is about unconditional love, despite your siblings’ unusual behavior. A dream team is about pushing yourself to be the best teammate you can be, caring intensely about your teammates, and knowing you may not be on the team forever.”
In the newest update to the Netflix official marching orders, a few key changes have sent critics raging and raised eyebrows across the industry. The changes, on their surface, first appeared to be in response to the controversy surrounding comedian Dave Chappelle’s most recent comedy special- which trans-activists and some in the LGBTQIA+ community considered harmful.
Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos famously chose to stand behind Chappelle and defended the decision to platform Chappelle’s content in spite of the objections, including objections from Netflix staff members.
By including this new guideline in Netflix standards and practices, Sarandos and other decision makers at Netflix clearly hope to stave off future unpleasantness- but not by avoiding controversial content.
Indeed, the new guidelines seem, in retrospect, to have been less about managing fallout from Dave Chappelle’s comedy special, which has mostly died out anyway- apart from a “fan” who bought a ticket to Chappelle’s live comedy show, was “triggered” by jokes, and attacked the comedian onstage.
Afterwards, the man admitted to “chasing clout” for his budding rap career and being inspired by Will Smith’s recent highly-public assault on comedian Chris Rock for a joke Smith found “triggering”.
What Dave Chappelle had to say in his most recent special may pale, however, in comparison to that master British atheist contrarian and shock-comic, Ricky Gervais. The latter’s recently released comedy special makes Chappelle’s shots at the LGBTQIA+ community seem tame in comparison.
“Entertaining the world is an amazing opportunity and also a challenge because viewers have very different tastes and points of view,” Netflix explained preemptively in its latest clarification of corporate culture. “So we offer a wide variety of TV shows and movies, some of which can be provocative. To help members make informed choices about what to watch, we offer ratings, content warnings and easy to use parental controls.”
“Not everyone will like- or agree with- everything on our service,” read the new section on “Artistic Expression”.
“While every title is different, we approach them based on the same set of principles: we support the artistic expression of the creators we choose to work with; we program for a diversity of audiences and tastes; and we let viewers decide what’s appropriate for them, versus having Netflix censor specific artists or voices,” the section read.
“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,” it went on. “Depending on your role, you may need to work on titles you perceive to be harmful. If you’d find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the best place for you.”
Indeed, Netflix, having just experienced a very difficult quarter and facing the loss of 10x the number of subscribers in the coming months, just announced a round of layoffs, axing 290 staff members. Where those layoffs are occurring has given industry observers another reason to claim the streaming giant is making a hard right turn against progressive censorship.
“Netflix’s woke purge,” declared the U.K.’s Daily Mail last week- never a publication to miss a chance to kick a figurative hornet’s nest. “Troubled streaming giant’s latest layoffs targeted staff who were among its most vocal social justice warriors working on original content about marginalized communities.”
“Netflix laid of [sic] 150 employees on Tuesday,” the Daily Mail reported, “many of whom were working on creating and promoting projects focusing on marginalized communities,” plus, “70 employees working for its social media and publishing teams, including Strong Black Lead, Golden, Con Todo and Most, all that catered to marginalized communities.”
“The company framed the firings as ‘layoffs’- but 150 people doesn’t really make a dent for a company of 11,000 people,” observed former NYT columnist Bari Weiss on Substack. “Those 150 happen to include, just by chance, some of the most Twitter-active social justice workers in the place.”
“Netflix also announced it would cancel the upcoming animated film ‘Antiracist Baby,’ based on the Ibram X. Kendi book,” Weiss added.
The brass at Netflix would, of course, deny any such thing. It is no secret that Netflix lost subscribers last quarter. Wall Street’s biggest names have been dropping Netflix stock like its a hot potato. There are likely many reasons for this: One of which is the plethora of streaming choices consumers now have widely available.
Netflix has warned that more subscribers are projected to jump ship in the coming year. So it’s no surprise the company is making cuts. After all, even the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle herself, had her new Netflix series axed due to cutbacks.
Netflix remains quirky, an upstart, the quintessential David to Blockbuster’s Goliath, but getting down to business is a grand tradition in the high-stakes world of corporate America, as old as the market itself. With tongue in cheek, Netflix would probably warn its critics not to make too much of layoffs and a few minor changes to company policy.
Policies aren’t everything, as the company reminded its employees in 2017.
“We also don’t have a clothing policy,” quipped the 2017 corporate manifesto in a line since deleted, probably out of respect for the sensitivities of employees; “but no one has come to work naked; you don’t need policies for everything.”
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders,” the Netflix 2017 corporate memo ended with a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery. “Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast endless sea.”
Whether that “vast endless sea,” is full of entertaining Netflix original and licensed content, or social justice, or both, Netflix is determined to stay the course it has charted.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)