Netflix fires chief communications officer Jonathan Friedland

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Netflix boots communications chief for using the N-word twice

Friedland demonstrated 'unacceptably low racial awareness and sensitivity,' said CEO Reed Hastings.

 

Bryan Rolli

IRL

Published Jun 23, 2018   Updated May 21, 2021, 12:47 pm CDT

Netflix gave the boot to one of its top executives after he repeatedly used a racist slur in meetings.

The streaming giant announced on Friday that it had fired Chief Communications Officer Jonathan Friedland for using the “N-word” on two separate occasions, Deadline reports. CEO Reed Hastings notified the staff of Friedland’s dismissal in an email, saying the former communications chief demonstrated “unacceptably low racial awareness and sensitivity” that was “not in line with our values as a company.”

Apparently, Hastings had first heard Friedland use the slur in a PR meeting about sensitive words several months ago. Friedland apologized after several people called him out, but he used the N-word again just a few days later in a meeting with two Black human resources employees.

Of Friedland’s first transgression, Hastings wrote in a staff memo, “We had hoped this was an awful anomaly never to be repeated.” But he also apologized for not taking swifter action upon learning of Friedland’s first offense. “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,” he said. “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.”

Friedland took to Twitter on Friday to break the news of his own departure. “I’m leaving Netflix after seven years,” he wrote. “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.”

Read Hastings’ full email below, per Deadline:

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 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, 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

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*First Published: Jun 23, 2018, 12:14 pm CDT