Netflix Fires Chief Communications Officer Over Use of Racial Slur
Posted June 22, 2018 10:24 p.m. EDT
The chief executive of Netflix fired the company’s chief communications officer Friday after he “showed unacceptably low racial awareness and sensitivity” in using a racial epithet at least twice in the workplace, according to a company memo.
The chief executive, Reed Hastings, credited the communications officer, Jonathan Friedland, with helping to strengthen Netflix’s brand around the world and making it successful.
But those accomplishments were not enough to outweigh his workplace behavior.
“Unfortunately, his lack of judgment in this area was too big for him to remain,” Hastings wrote.
Friedland, who was named chief communications officer in January 2012, could not be reached to comment Friday night. On Twitter, he said, “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.”
The Hollywood Reporter first reported on Friedland’s firing.
In the memo, Hastings said the first episode involving Friedland’s “descriptive use of the N-word” happened several months ago at a public relations meeting about sensitive words.
“Several people afterwards told him how inappropriate and hurtful his use of the N-word was” and Friedland apologized, the memo said. “We hoped this was an awful anomaly never to be repeated.”
But Hastings said he heard this week of a second case, which happened a few days after the first. Friedland used the epithet with two black employees who were trying to help him deal with the original case.
“The second incident confirmed a deep lack of understanding, and convinced me to let Jonathan go now,” Hastings wrote.
He added that, looking back, he should “have done more to use it as a learning moment for everyone at Netflix about how painful and ugly that word is, and that it should not be used.”
He added, “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.”
He wrote that its use in music and film have created confusion about whether it is ever acceptable, adding: “For nonblack 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.”
He wrote that the company would help its employees understand the “many difficult ways that race, nationality, gender identity and privilege play out in society and our organization.”
Friedland was the vice president for global communications at Netflix for a year before becoming chief communications officer. He worked at The Walt Disney Co. before joining Netflix and had previously spent more than 20 years as a foreign correspondent and editor at The Wall Street Journal and Far Eastern Economic Review, according to his LinkedIn profile.
On Twitter, he said he felt “awful about the distress this lapse caused to people at a company I love and where I want everyone to feel included and appreciated.”