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After comedian Tom Segura’s Netflix special “Disgraceful” aired in January, both he and Netflix faced backlash for a segment where Segura says people can’t use the r-word anymore. Instead, Segura suggests people replace the r-word with “extra 21st chromosome” as an insult. Now, Netflix’s CEO, Reed Hastings, has defended the special, citing “creative expression,” according to Disability Scoop.
Lawyer Laurence Tribe wrote to Hastings in July asking him to do something about the use of the word since both Segura and Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos shrugged off disability advocates. Tribe added:
If racial or religious or ethnic minorities were the target of Tom Segura’s outrageous cruelty, I cannot imagine an industry leader with a reputation as hard-earned as that of Netflix tolerating — much less facilitating and propelling — the spread of such hate on its media platform. This is not a matter of ‘political correctness,’ indeed I have dedicated my professional life to study and protection of free expression and the prevention of censorship, and I am not here advocating government action to combat what Netflix is enabling and promoting. But when words and images only serve to perpetuate the stigma that dehumanizes the most vulnerable among us, it is time for private citizens of principle to stand up and say: ‘Enough!’
Hastings replied to Tribe on September 5, Disability Scoop reported. Hastings told Tribe that Segura’s performance falls “within the bounds of creative expression,” even though the comments are hurtful for many.
“Certain portions of any creative work including stand-up comedy can and do offend and are intended to evoke a range of responses,” Hastings wrote.
Hastings added that Netflix provides a wide range of “perspectives and voices” to give “higher degree in choice and control” over what people watch.
The trailer Netflix chose before the release of Segura’s special also included another disability-related insult, saying some physical disabilities are “funny” like physical flaws.
Tribe told Disability Scoop he was unsatisfied with Hastings’ response and Netflix has a “higher moral obligation” to consider than just “creative expression.”
Tribe also tweeted about Hastings’ response:
Netflix has a legal right to make money from the pain of others — but that doesn’t make it *right* for Netflix to do so. That’s the difference between decency and mere legality. @SpecialOlympics @TimShriver @bobbyshriver https://t.co/H2TqPojkPb
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) September 24, 2018
John McCloskey, a father of a girl with Down syndrome, told The Mighty he plans on canceling his Netflix subscription following Hastings’ response to Tribe’s letter. Other families canceled their subscriptions after the news of Segura’s show first broke.
“Use of the r-word and framing people with Down syndrome as imbeciles are no different in the eyes of the special needs community than a racial slur or derogatory terms for other communities,” McCloskey said. “My decision to cancel my subscription to Netflix is also a pragmatic one — the equivalent to changing the channel — as well as a message to the CEO that artistic expression shouldn’t include a slur towards a group that cannot defend themselves.”
Segura isn’t the only comedian with a Netflix show to come under fire for using intellectual disabilities, especially Down syndrome, in an insulting way. Norm MacDonald recently used Down syndrome in place of the word “stupid.” In a radio interview with Howard Stern on Sept. 12, he said, “You’d have to have Down syndrome to not feel sorry” for sexual assault victims. The interview was in an attempt to smooth over what he said about victims in the wake of #MeToo.
After backlash, MacDonald apologized during an appearance on “The View.” He said he had “done something unforgivable.” MacDonald’s comments were not made on his Netflix show, “Norm MacDonald Has a Show,” but were said days before its premiere.
While Segura’s comments were made on Netflix’s platform, Michael Rapaport, who plays the main character’s father on Netflix’s autism-themed “Atypical,” has a history of using the r-word and “special needs” as insults toward people online. Some of the insults were written after Rapaport was cast. The Mighty previously reached out to Netflix and Rapaport’s team for comment but never heard back.
“Tom Segura: Disgraceful” and MacDonald’s show are still available to stream on Netflix.