Caving to the mutiny people have pushed within his own company, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos now claims he “screwed up” when defending comedian Dave Chappelle against the 2SLGBTQQIA+ activists outraged over his explosive stand-up special The Closer.
According to Sarandos, his defense of Chappelle should have “led with more humanity” by acknowledging the “pain and hurt” his employees were feeling due to the company’s decision to host Chappelle’s special.
“I screwed up that internal communication. I did that, and I screwed it up in two ways,” Sarandos told Variety in an interview on Tuesday. “First and foremost, I should have led with a lot more humanity.”
“I had a group of employees who were definitely feeling pain and hurt from a decision we made,” he added. “And I think that needs to be acknowledged up front before you get into the nuts and bolts of anything. I didn’t do that.”
Chappelle’s special, which heavily mocked and called out the 2SLGBTQQIA+ lobby for its censorious assault on free speech.
“They cancelled @jk_rowling, they started calling her a TERF. I didn't even know what that was, but I know that trans people make up words to win arguments… I'm team TERF.”
— Women's Voices (@WomenReadWomen) October 7, 2021
Upon the initial backlash over Chappelle’s The Closer, Sarandos defended the comedian’s right to artistic expressing while dismissing concerns that his words could lead to “real-world harm.”
“We know that a number of you have been left angry, disappointed and hurt by our decision to put Dave Chappelle’s latest special on Netflix,” Sarandos wrote in a company-wide email. “With The Closer, we understand that the concern is not about offensive-to-some content but titles which could increase real-world harm.”
“While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm,” he added.
Sarandos now believes that he misspoke and agreed with his critics that “storytelling has real impact in the real world.”
Of course storytelling has real impact in the real world. I reiterate that because it’s why I work here, it’s why we do what we do. That impact can be hugely positive, and it can be quite negative. So, I would have been better in that communication. They were joining a conversation already in progress, but out of context. But that happens, internal emails go out. In all my communications I should lean into the humanity up front and not make a blanket statement that could land very differently than it was intended.
What can only be characterized as a splitting of the baby moment, Ted Sarandos then reaffirmed his support for artistic freedom while acknowledging the “pain” of his employees.
We are trying to support creative freedom and artistic expression among the artists that work at Netflix. Sometimes, and we do make sure our employees understand this, because of that — because we’re trying to entertain the world, and the world is made up of folks with a lot of different sensibilities and beliefs and senses of humor and all those things — sometimes, there will be things on Netflix that you dislike.
When asked if The Closer could classify as “hate speech,” Sarandos said that he draws the line “on something that would intentionally call for physically harming other people or even remove protections.” On whether or not Netflix would remove the special, Sarandos said, “I don’t believe there have been many calls to remove it.”
As of this writing, a Change.org petition calling on Netflix to remove the special has over 10,000 signatures.
Going forward, Sarandos pledged that Netflix would “continue to invest enormous amounts of content dollars in LGBTQ+ stories for the world and giving them a global platform.”
Though Sarandos stood by Chappelle, his co-CEO Reed Hastings kept silent about the matter, leading to speculation that a rift had occurred in the company as employees organized a walkout scheduled for Wednesday, October 20.