By Sam Bojarski
Since June 5, tens of thousands have signed a petition calling on Netflix to delete the “AIDS” episode of its “History 101” documentary series. On social media, some members of the Haitian community have advanced a movement to cancel Netflix subscriptions.
Karen Andre, a Florida-based attorney and political strategist, said she has reached out to her connections in the entertainment industry about the possibility of securing an apology from Netflix, over the “AIDS” episode.
“If the final response I get from my industry connections is they will not put out a statement, I am definitely cancelling,” Andre said, in reference to her Netflix subscription.
“History 101,” produced by ITN Productions, premiered on Netflix in late May. On May 27, the Instagram account XEAUX brought attention to a specific segment in the “AIDS” episode of the series, that traced the origins of the virus and appeared to place Haiti at the center of a global AIDS outbreak. Netflix had removed the episode by the first weekend in June, after social media users voiced their displeasure over the inaccuracies in the video and the stigmas it revived. But demands to cancel Netflix have continued, amid dissatisfaction with the company’s response thus far. A separate Netflix series has also been flagged for making racist and inaccurate statements about Haitians.
Since the early 1980s, Haitians have faced stigma and discrimination after being labeled a high-risk group for HIV-AIDS by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some members of the Haitian community have connected the demand for an apology with the growing, nationwide calls for racial justice in recent weeks.
“This is a great opportunity and teachable moment to show that they truly respect and support all black lives and their black consumers,” Andre told the Haitian Times.
“Once a correction is made, it’s normal and respectful for an entity to put out a statement acknowledging hurt and harm was done,” she also said.
“History 101” isn’t the only Netflix series that the Haitian community has found offensive. Social media users have also reacted to a segment in Episode 2, Season 1 of “The Politician,” titled “The Harrington Commode.” The show’s main character, Payton Hobart (played by Ben Platt), is trying to become class president of an elite high school but needs to find out if his potential vice-presidential pick, Infinity Jackson, is faking an illness.
McAfee Westbrook (played by Laura Dreyfuss) suggests organizing a school-wide blood drive ‒ that could also serve as a campaign event ‒ to get a blood sample.
“We’ll make it a campaign event, a statement saying that ignorance about HIV has no place in our society anymore, and anyone at our school who wants to can donate blood, including gays and Haitians,” the character Westbrook said in the episode.
After hesitation from Hobart, Westbrook responds by saying the blood drive would help nail down the vote of the one Haitian student at the school.
Netflix has not yet issued an apology for the “AIDS” episode, although in a June 6 statement to the Haitian Times, a Netflix spokesperson acknowledged the concerns that were raised and said that Netflix had decided to remove the episode, while it reviews the issues involved.
ITN Productions and Netflix have not responded to requests for comment, regarding the call for an apology. A separate request for comment regarding “The Politician” has also not been returned.
Claudeen Pierre, who founded and manages the XEAUX Instagram page, started a Change.org petition on June 5, that demanded Netflix remove the episode. The petition has so far received more than 28,500 signatures and requested that those who sign take various actions, including cancelling their Netflix subscriptions.
According to Pierre, numerous social media influencers within the Haitian community shared it.
“I wasn’t surprised at how many people signed it. I was actually hoping that Netflix would have done the right thing initially by taking the documentary down before it needed to cause outrage or widespread dissension among the Haitian community,” she said.
While Pierre said the petition will close this week, she pointed to new demands, listed on the XEAUX website. In addition to apologies from both ITN Productions and Netflix, the demands also call on ITN Productions to modify the episode and include a historically accurate portrayal of the spread of AIDS. A demand for accountability called for internal discussion on the importance of telling black stories.
“We ask that Netflix honor all refund requests for the months of May 2020 and June 2020 for all those who cancelled their subscriptions in response to the release of this documentary,” the final demand read.
Since the episode was removed from the Netflix platform, XEAUX has continued to make public posts via Instagram, demanding an apology from Netflix and encouraging users to cancel subscriptions, in the absence of a response from the company.
Netflix reported $20.2 billion in revenue for 2019, up 27.6 percent year over year. International and domestic streaming accounted for the overwhelming majority of this revenue, with domestic streaming ‒ subscriptions from customers in the United States ‒ accounting for 46 percent of revenues.
Consumers, Andre said, should know their worth and demand respect and accountability from streaming services like Netflix, that profit from their usage. Making a statement, she added, would be a way for Netflix to show respect for its consumers and the value they bring.
As protesters throughout the country continue to demand racial justice and even reparations for past injustices, Pierre said an apology has become even more necessary.
As of June 22, Pierre confirmed she had not heard word of any formal apology from Netflix.
While she acknowledged that there was likely no intention to harm the Haitian community in any way, “when someone brings something to your attention as having a xenophobic and harmful past … it seems to me like it would just be the appropriate thing to do, to support an action that acknowledged that there was wrongdoing,” said Pierre.