It's A Good Time To Watch 'Dear White People': Netflix Fires Its PR Chief For Using Racial Slurs
The streaming giant took swift action against Jonathan Friedland after he used the n-word (twice!) during several meetings.
For too long, bad behavior has been swept under the rug. No one in Hollywood was held accountable for... much of anything, really. Look how long it took the Harvey Weinstein allegations to come to light. But in some ways, times have changed. Recently, Netflix took swift action and fired its PR chief, Jonathan Friedland, when he used the n-word during several meetings. Sources told the Hollywood Reporter that Friedland used the slur twice during group discussions, and was reported to HR by staffers. Once Netflix CEO Reed Hastings learned of the second incident, he fired Friedland shortly before 1 a.m. on Friday, June 22, 2018.
"I’m leaving Netflix after seven years," Friedland said in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter. "Leaders have to be beyond reproach in the example we set and unfortunately I fell short of that standard when I was insensitive in speaking to my team about words that offend in comedy. I feel awful about the distress this lapse caused to people at a company I love and where I want everyone to feel included and appreciated. I feel honored to have built a brilliant and diverse global team and to have been part of this collective adventure in building the world’s leading entertainment service."
However, he later tweeted (and quickly deleted): "Rise high, fall fast. All on a couple of words," so it's unclear what lessons Friedland actually learned from this incident.
When Friedland was fired, Hastings sent out a lengthy company-wide email informing his employees.
"I’ve made a decision to let go of Jonathan Friedland," he wrote. "Jonathan contributed greatly in many areas, but his descriptive use of the N-word on at least two occasions at work showed unacceptably low racial awareness and sensitivity, and is not in line with our values as a company."
"The first incident was several months ago in a PR meeting about sensitive words," he explained. "Several people afterwards told him how inappropriate and hurtful his use of the N-word was, and Jonathan apologized to those that had been in the meeting. We hoped this was an awful anomaly never to be repeated. Three months later he spoke to a meeting of our Black Employees @ Netflix group and did not bring it up, which was understood by many in the meeting to mean he didn’t care and didn’t accept accountability for his words."
"The second incident, which I only heard about this week," Hastings added, "was a few days after the first incident; this time Jonathan said the N-word again to two of our Black employees in HR who were trying to help him deal with the original offense. The second incident confirmed a deep lack of understanding, and convinced me to let Jonathan go now."
Hastings also referenced the streaming service's progressive drama, Dear White People. He name-checked the show after a thoughtful paragraph about non-Black use of the n-word.
"Depending on where you live or grew up in the world, understanding and sensitivities around the history and use of the N-word can vary," Hastings wrote. "Debate on the use of the word is active around the world (example) as the use of it in popular media like music and film have created some confusion as to whether or not there is ever a time when the use of the N-word is acceptable. For non-Black people, the word should not be spoken as there is almost no context in which it is appropriate or constructive (even when singing a song or reading a script). There is not a way to neutralize the emotion and history behind the word in any context. The use of the phrase 'N-word' was created as a euphemism, and the norm, with the intention of providing an acceptable replacement and moving people away from using the specific word. When a person violates this norm, it creates resentment, intense frustration, and great offense for many. Our show Dear White People covers some of this ground."
While it's ironic (and baffling) that Netflix's chief communications officer would make such a grave communications error, it's great to hear high-powered people like Hastings are listening, learning, and holding their officials accountable.