Our open letter to Netflix

Scope and Mencap are calling on Netflix to act.

In the last week, clips have surfaced that show Ricky Gervais using the ‘R' word in his new stand up show. This is a disappointing reminder that ableist slurs are still commonplace. And it is even more disappointing that a streaming giant like Netflix is providing a platform for this vile language.

Gervais claims that he would never use language like this in ‘real life’. But at Scope, we know that ableist language like this has very real consequences. That’s why we’re joining with Mencap to ask Netflix to remove the ableist slur from their platform.

Our open letter

Dear Anne Mensah,

We are writing to you on behalf of the millions of disabled people, family members, friends and members of the public who will be deeply affected by Netflix’s decision to air a programme containing multiple uses of a traumatising, dehumanising ableist slur. 

Ricky Gervais’ Armageddon show was controversial when it toured, as we’re sure he hoped it would be. But the decision of a major streaming platform to air the ‘R’ word so casually has consequences.

This isn’t just language that “some viewers may find offensive”. This is a word that causes real harm.  

Disabled people have told us that this word can feel like a physical assault, and strips away their humanity. Yet, unlike other forms of hate speech, the ‘R’ word is still used in jokes and casual banter for people’s amusement.  

When you broadcast such language, it emboldens people to use this derogatory term in day-to-day life. It’s a sad reality that online abuse, bullying and trolling is a common experience for disabled people. Scope research has found that 3 out of 4 disabled people have experienced negative attitudes or behaviour in the last 5 years. 

By giving this word airtime, you are undoing years of hard work trying to improve society for disabled people. It’s the 21st century and words like this have no place in our society, alongside other offensive terms that attack and stigmatise minority groups. 

As one of the UK’s biggest streaming platforms, Netflix has a huge responsibility and role to play in making change happen.  What people with a learning disability have told us they want, is for people to understand how triggering this word really is so that it becomes truly unspeakable. 

We believe you should use your position to talk to and hear from people with a learning disability, and understand the day-to-day reality of their lives, and the impact this type of show has.  

We urge you to stand alongside the 16 million disabled people in the UK and remove the ‘R’ word from your platform.

James Taylor, Director of Strategy, Impact and Social Change at disability equality charity Scope

Jackie O’Sullivan, Acting Chief Executive at learning disability charity Mencap

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