×

Netflix Comms Chief Jonathan Friedland Out Over Insensitive Comments

Netflix chief communications officer Jonathan Friedland is leaving the company following a controversy over insensitive remarks. Friedland announced the departure on Twitter Friday, saying that he felt awful about “the distress this lapse caused.”

Friedland had joined Netflix as VP of communications in 2011, and became the company’s chief communications officer a year later. His ascend at the company coincided with Netflix’s first major PR debacle, the proposed split of its DVD business into a separate company called Quickster — which Netflix quickly walked back on.

Before joining Netflix, Friedland had served in communications roles for Disney. He was a journalist by trade before crossing over to work in comms, and worked for a decade for the Wall Street Journal, where he served as the paper’s Los Angeles bureau chief.

A Netflix spokesperson referred Variety to Friedland’s Twitter statement, saying that the company didn’t have anything further to add. There is no word on any possible replacement for Friedland.

In a memo to staff Friday, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings described two incidents in which Friedland used the N-word, writing of Friedland, “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.”

Popular on Variety

Friedland’s departure comes at a time of success for Netflix, which has been beating market expectations over the past quarters, and now has over 125 million subscribers worldwide. This week, Netflix’s stock price surpassed $400 for the first time in the company’s history. On Friday, Netflix’s stock closed at $411.09. It was down $4.35, or around 1% in after-hours trading following the news of Friedland’s departure.

Read the full memo from Hastings below:

All:

I’ve made a decision to let go of Jonathan Friedland. 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. Several people afterwards told him how inappropriate and hurtful his use of the N-word was, and Jonathan apologised 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, 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.

As I reflect on this, at this first incident, I 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. I realize that my privilege has made me intellectualize or otherwise minimize race issues like this. I need to set a better example by learning and listening more so I can be the leader we need.

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. 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.

Going forward, we are going to find ways to educate and help our employees broadly understand the many difficult ways that race, nationality, gender identity and privilege play out in society and our organization. We seek to be great at inclusion, across many dimensions, and these incidents show we are uneven at best. We have already started to engage outside experts to help us learn faster.

Jonathan has been a great contributor and he built a diverse global team creating awareness for Netflix, strengthening our reputation around the world, and helping make us into the successful company we are today. Many of us have worked closely with Jonathan for a long time, and have mixed emotions. Unfortunately, his lack of judgment in this area was too big for him to remain. We care deeply about our employees feeling safe and supported at Netflix.

Much of this information will be in the press shortly. But any detail not in the press is confidential to employees.

-Reed

 

More Digital

  • YouTube TV

    YouTube TV Is Dropping Fox Regional Sports Nets, YES Network After Sinclair Standoff

    YouTube TV, Google’s internet pay-TV service, said it will drop the Fox regional sports networks and the YES Network from customer lineups this Saturday, Feb. 29 — citing an impasse in negotiations with Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns the RSNs. “We purchase rights from Sinclair to distribute content to you,” the YouTube TV account said [...]

  • Facebook F8 Conference 2019 - Mark

    Facebook Cancels F8 Developers Conference Over Coronavirus Fears

    The worldwide coronavirus pandemic has prompted Facebook to cancel this year’s F8 developers conference. The F8 2020 was scheduled for May 5-6 at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, Calif. The social giant had held the conference every year since 2007, and last year’s F8 drew more than 5,000 attendees, according to the company. [...]

  • Rachel Whitney Joins Spotify as Nashville

    Rachel Whitney Joins Spotify as Nashville Head of Editorial

    Rachel Whitney, formerly of YouTube, is joining Spotify as the Head of Editorial for Nashville, she announced in a social media post (which recently has become a method of the streaming giant announcing new employees).  A source close to the situation points out that the company now has two female executives at the helm of [...]

  • RM, V, Suga, Jin, Jimin, Jungkook,

    BTS' New Video for 'ON' Breaks YouTube Premiere Record (Watch)

    BTS have dropped their second official music video from their new album, “Map of the Soul: 7,” for the song “ON” — and within minutes of it dropping, the song became the biggest YouTube Premiere of all time, with 1.54 million concurrent viewers tuned in for the clip’s debut on YouTube Premieres. According to the [...]

  • Lisa Holme

    Discovery Hires Hulu's Lisa Holme to Lead Streaming Strategy

    Lisa Holme, a Hulu veteran who had been leading its international expansion strategy, has joined Discovery in a newly created role to oversee content and commercial strategy for the company’s direct-to-consumer streaming group. Discovery named Holme to the newly created role of group senior VP, content and commercial strategy, in Discovery’s direct-to-consumer group. She is [...]

  • Peloton

    Peloton Settles Legal Fight With Music Publishers

    Peloton settled a lawsuit filed by members of the U.S.’s music-publishing trade organization that had sought more than $300 million in damages over the interactive-fitness company’s alleged use of 2,468 unlicensed songs. The National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA), which represents American music publishers and songwriters, and Peloton together announced that they have “fully settled” the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content