×

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.”

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

  • Stuber

    ‘Stuber’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Twentieth Century Fox claims the top spot in spending with “Stuber.” Ads placed for the comedy had an estimated media value of $4.91 million through Sunday for 1,325 national ad airings on 42 networks. [...]

  • Andy Signore Screen Junkies

    'Honest Trailers' Creator Andy Signore Settles Defy Media Suit

    Andy Signore, the creator of Screen Junkies’ “Honest Trailers,” has settled a lawsuit against Defy Media challenging his firing for alleged sexual misconduct. Signore was one of the first figures to lose his job in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein harassment revelations in October 2017. Defy Media, which then owned Screen Junkies, terminated him [...]

  • Joyride

    With Joyride, Everyone Can Host Their Own HQ Trivia

    When mobile game developer Kiwi first released Joyride, the app looked familiar: Similar to wildly popular HQ Trivia, Joyride offered players the ability to win quiz shows in live broadcasts. The key difference: Joyride’s app wasn’t home to just one trivia show, but multiple shows around topics like music, dating, fandom, and yes, trivia, all [...]

  • Etika-Desmond-Amofah

    Gaming YouTuber Desmond 'Etika' Amofah Found Dead, NYPD Says

    Desmond Amofah, a YouTube gaming vlogger known online as “Etika,” was found dead by New York police on Tuesday after he was reported missing last week. He was 29. Amofah posted YouTube videos and live-streams focused on Nintendo games and other titles. A body later confirmed to be Amofah’s was found in the East River on [...]

  • Paula Pell

    Quibi Orders Comedic Murder Mystery From Lorne Michaels, 'SNL' Alums

    Quibi keeps shelling out cash for content: Jeffrey Katzenberg’s richly funded startup has ordered a short-form murder-mystery comedy written by and starring former “Saturday Night Live” writers Paula Pell and John Lutz, and executive produced by Lorne Michaels’ Broadway Video alongside Seth Meyers and Mike Shoemaker. In “Mapleworth Murders,” Pell (pictured above) is Abigail Mapleworth, [...]

  • View of the Public Library on

    New York City Public Libraries Drop Kanopy Free Movie-Streaming Service

    Kanopy suffered a blow with the decision by New York City’s three public library systems — collectively the biggest library system in the U.S., with some 210 branches across the Big Apple — to drop the free movie-streaming service, citing high costs. As of July 1, the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn and [...]

  • Cameo

    Celebrity Video Greetings Service Cameo Raises $50 Million

    Cameo, a service that works with celebrities to sell personalized video greetings to fans, has raised a $50 million Series B round of funding led by Kleiner Perkins. The Chernin Group, Spark Ventures, Bain Capital and Lightspeeed Venture Partners participated in the funding as well. Cameo wants to use the cash infusion to grow both [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content