Netflix drops anti-racist shows connected to Ibram Kendi

Jazz pointed out this morning that, in the wake of a downturn in subscribers, Netflix has started handing out pink slips. The 200,000 subscribers the company lost in the first quarter isn’t very significant but the two million it expects to lose in the 2nd quarter is a real problem. In addition to cutting staff, the streaming giant is also trimming some projects. Variety reports a few of those were projects connected to Ibram Kendi.

Netflix has pulled the plug on several animated projects, including “Wings of Fire,” from executive producer Ava DuVernay; “Antiracist Baby,” a series aimed at preschoolers; and “With Kind Regards From Kindergarten,” a film tailored to youngsters.

The streaming service also scrapped “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You,” a documentary intended to serve as a companion piece to “Stamped From the Beginning, which is a hybrid documentary and scripted feature that delves into race in the United States…

“Antiracist Baby,” based on antiracist scholar Dr. Ibram X. Kendi children’s book of the same name, was imagined as a series of animated vignettes set to music for preschoolers. Kendi also wrote “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You,” which will no longer run in tandem with the adult-skewed “Stamped From the Beginning.” Those three projects were being made to examine racism for audiences of all ages.

The Stamped from the Beginning series is still going forward and that’s also based on a Kendi book, so Netflix isn’t entirely out of the Kendi business, but they are dialing it back a bit. Maybe that’s the result of the anticipated downturn and that fact that animated shows (Anti-racist Baby was going to be animated) are expensive.

But I suspect there’s a little more going on here even if I can’t prove it. Last week the company put out a revised culture memo which offered some new advice about spending money wisely.  But they also added a section on artistic expression: [emphasis added]

Entertaining the world is an amazing opportunity and also a challenge because viewers have very different tastes and points of view. So we offer a wide variety of TV shows and movies, some of which can be provocative. To help members make informed choices about what to watch, we offer ratings, content warnings and easy to use parental controls.

Not everyone will like—or agree with—everything on our service. While every title is different, we approach them based on the same set of principles: we support the artistic expression of the creators we choose to work with; we program for a diversity of audiences and tastes; and we let viewers decide what’s appropriate for them, versus having Netflix censor specific artists or voices.

As employees we support the principle that Netflix offers a diversity of stories, even if we find some titles counter to our own personal values. Depending on your role, you may need to work on titles you perceive to be harmful. If you’d find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the best place for you.

This is pretty clearly directed at the woke employees who tried (and mostly failed) to generate a protest inside and outside Netflix aimed at canceling the company’s association with Dave Chappelle. Ibram Kendi may be popular with a certain fringe of left-wing activists in this country but there’s no way Anti-Racist Baby the cartoon was going to make as much money for Netflix as the next Dave Chappelle special. It’s not even close.

And, hey, so long as Netflix was the unrivaled king of streaming, they didn’t have to worry about that, just as they didn’t have to worry about people sharing passwords. But times have changed. Now they have competition. Now Dave Chappelle has other places he can go.

Plus, Netflix may have realized that going all in with Kendi was only going to encourage the very people inside and outside the company who don’t believe in artistic expression or even free speech. It was also likely to irritate a lot of people who the company needs to retain as customers if it wants to remain profitable. Making the company an ideological hostage to a narrow-minded cult that represents 5-10 percent of their potential audience is not the path to success.

It’s the same choice that many companies, not just Netflix, are now being asked to make. It’s why when the draft decision on Roe was leaked from the Supreme Court, companies were warned not to comment on it. The board members may be for abortion rights up to the moment of birth but it has finally penetrated with some of them that there is a potential downside to going too far left. The center and the right are used to tolerating a certain amount of low-level hostility and abuse from Hollywood but it can go too far. The tolerance for condescending lectures isn’t infinite and Anti-racist Baby would probably cross the line for a lot of people, especially now when resistance to “CRT in schools” is still pretty high.

Maybe I’m being overly-optimistic but it really looks to me as if the combination of declining fortunes and internal brawling with their own woke employees has made Netflix pull back a little from content they know is likely to harm the company more than help it. Let’s hope the trend continues.