Netflix; A Tale of Two Black Celebrities

Dave Chappelle made headlines once again, recently, when he posted a clip from his "Unforgiven" stand up special to his instagram. In it, he is seen explaining how he was wronged by the "Chappelle Show" contract which he himself signed, and that the show as it now streams on various platforms is tantamount to a slave being bought and sold to various slave owners. Well that is a bold, baseless, emotional jump, tantamount to Evel Knievel's poorly engineered attempt to jump the Snake River. -We will address this claim momentarily. Nevertheless, as we learned days later, Netflix removed the show from its platform to appease Chappelle, with whom the international streaming giant signed a multi-million dollar, multi-year deal back in 2016. However, the Chappelle Show is still streaming on other ViacomCBS owned platforms, such as Comedy Central and CBS All Access, as well as HBO Max.

Fellow stand up comedian, and Academy Award Winner, Mo'Nique, made headlines back in early 2018 for an eerily similar reason, when she called for a boycott of Netflix. In her case, her call out to her fans and followers was for what she considered to be color and gender bias, as reflected in a "disrespectful" initial contract offer of $500,000.00 for her stand up special. Mo'Nique referred to contract offers made to Chappelle, Chris Rock, and Amy Schumer, who were all offered multi-million dollar contracts for their specials. Netflix's counter to the accusation, was that their offers were all based on a calculation of the value of the content, based on some blurry, inconsistent factors, which included how much revenue the comedians had shown the ability to generate in a trailing period of a year or so. Well, time passed, and not only did Netflix not change their stance, but Mo'Nique was dragged on both media and social media outlets for having the nerve to make such a "selfish and self-serving" request of her fans and followers.

Okay, so removing the common factor of Netflix from the equation, and just looking at the request, I find it interesting how it is selfish and self-serving when Monique makes the plea to her fans, but it is somehow palatable coming from Dave.

The main case against Mo'Nique, in the public eye, ties back to her decision to stay home with her family, instead of making the trip to the Cannes festival to help promote the film "Precious", which she starred in, ahead of the 2009-10 awards season. Of course, the 2009 film went on to garner multiple awards, including an Academy Award for Best Actress In a Supporting role, for Mo'Nique. Nevertheless, according to Mo'Nique, the damage was done. She indicated that because of her decision, she fell out of favor with several powerful players in the entertainment business, including Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, and Lee Daniels. Furthermore, in the aftermath of her fallout with several big name players, a number of well known actors and comedians took sides, making cases for and against her.

Whoopie Goldberg, fellow Academy Award Winner, and host of the popular daytime television talk show The View, both consoled and reprimanded Mo'Nique. In her assertion, Mo'Nique was aware of the contractual obligations. In her view, the damage to her image, reputation, and ultimately her career would have been easily avoided if she had lived up to her responsibilities. Mo'Nique, on the other hand, saw things differently, and stated such; that promoting the film for the awards season was outside of her responsibilities. Subsequent interviews revealed that her reason for not attending Cannes has to do with her desire to "be present" and spend time with her family, and that she would was expected to pay for her travel and accommodations out of her own pocket. If this is the case, it does raise the question about how this was specified and accounted for in the contract. Was it clause that was overlooked, misunderstood, or simply ignored?

In Dave Chappelle's case, there was no misinterpretation or misunderstanding of the contract. Chappelle knowingly and admittedly signed it. The issue is that now, after the fact, he has decided that the contract is unjust and exploitative. Ironically, the Chappelle Show, was not immediately popular. It was a slow burn, and grew exponentially, exploding in popularity over the second and third seasons. Of course, the $50 million dollar aspect for two additional seasons became a focal point of the public conversation, when Chappelle departed the show seemingly suddenly and abruptly. One thing that comes to mind though, is why didn't he renegotiate his contract with ViacomCBS/Comedy Central at that point when he had all of the leverage of the show's momentum and popularity? Chappelle was the name and face of the most talked about sketch show in America. If there was ever a time to make a power move, that was it, but instead, he chose to walk away. Hey, his life, his conscience, his decision.

It was his decision to walk away, that made his comeback, ten years later, and reported $60 Million dollar deal with Netflix, the stuff of legend. According to Dave Chappelle himself, he had walked away in order to preserve himself and his sanity from a toxic environment. Seemingly, he reemerged unscathed, unphased, and reinvigorated, and all the world praised him for it. I mean hey, he walked away from the entertainment business machine, into an uncertain future, and came out on the other side, better off than ever. Or, is he really?

Dave Chappelle's plea to his fans, to do him a solid by not watching Chappelle Show on the platforms currently streaming it, unless and until they pay him, is both selfish and self-serving. Knowing that he signed the contract, regardless of the reasoning, makes the request a disingenuous one. The very show that he walked away from, is arguably the catalyst for his current success, but rather than take it as a learning lesson, like any regular person that has ever signed a contract would have to, he wants to use his popularity to help him go back in time figuratively speaking, and change his old decision. As I recall, Chappelle was as quiet as a church mouse, back when Monique was calling for a boycott of Netflix in order to leverage a better deal for herself(as well as others, according to Mo'Nique). With the type of pull that Dave Chappelle clearly has with Netflix, he likely could have successfully championed Mo'Nique's cause. I'm not saying he should have, only that he could have....and if he would have, his current request wouldn't come across as entitled as it does.

Now, for the bombshell, that most mainstream media and social media outlets either missed or decided not to publicize; just this past July(2020), California's Central District Court ruled in Mo'Nique's favor, in her ongoing discrimination lawsuit against Netflix, paving the way for her suit to move forward. Mo'Nique has asserted in her suit, that Netflix made an offer that reflected racial and gender bias, and then subsequently retaliated against her for speaking out about it, by shutting down good faith negotiations that typically result in higher offers. The court agreed with her.

Dave Chappelle, on the other hand, who is smart enough to know that legally he doesn't have a leg to stand on, is instead, looking to try the case in the court of public opinion, and use that to shame ViacomCBS into "doing the right thing". Or more specifically, doing right by Dave Chappelle's finances.

It's ironic that in Dave Chappelle's clip, he makes reference to Mo'Nique, albeit indirectly, explaining to his audience that he is not calling for a Boycott of Netflix or other streaming platforms(like Mo'Nique did). He's just asking people to not watch his show, until he is getting paid for it. Oh, is that all, Dave? Sure thing. It's also pretty ironic that, according to Dave , his great-grandfather, who was born into slavery, would have thought that his great-grandson is being bought and sold more than he was. Really?

I wonder what this conveniently referenced great-grandfather would have thought about Dave Chappelle building a comedy legacy trafficking in the use of stereotypes and the N-word for the entertainment of white folks. It seems to me that Dave Chappelle may be a bit more like Clayton Bigsby, than anyone might have thought.