Ted Sarandos, co-Chief Executive Officer and Chief Content Officer of Netflix, has admitted that he “screwed up” in handling the recent backlash against Dave Chappelle and his Netflix special The Closer.
The American comedian was called out by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the National Black Justice Coalition, earlier this month, after he passed homophobic and anti-trans remarks in his stand-up special for Netflix.
Speaking to Variety on Tuesday, Sarandos, who received flak for defending Chappelle in the name of artistic freedom, said, “I screwed it up in two ways. First and foremost, I should have led with a lot more humanity. Meaning, I had a group of employees who were definitely feeling pain and hurt from a decision we made. 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.”
Netflix’s senior management was embroiled in controversy for defending Chappelle in a leaked memo shared with the staff, part of which read, “While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that the content on screen [in the comedy special] does not directly translate to real-world harm.”
Questioned about Netflix’s protocol for defining hate speech, Sarandos told Variety, “Where we’ll definitely draw the line is on something that would intentionally call for physically harming other people or even remove protections. For me, intent to cause physical harm crosses the line, for sure.”
Further prodded on whether he and the company believe The Closer amounts to hate speech, he said, “Under the definition of ‘does it intend to cause physical harm?’ I do not believe it falls into hate speech.”
Sarandos also noted that the show will continue to stream on the platform as there have not been “many calls to remove it.”
Netflix’ global head of TV Bela Bajaria had earlier stated that the streaming giant would continue its collaboration with Chappelle in the future.
The company had also suspended a few of its employees who had criticised Chappelle’s comedy special on social media, though the stated reason for the suspension was their unauthorised attendance at a high-level meeting. These employees were later reinstated on October 13.
Meanwhile, several trans employees at Netflix, along with their allies, have planned a walkout that is scheduled to be held on Wednesday.
Activist and journalist Ashlee Marie Preston announced an in-person rally, named ‘Stand Up in Solidarity’, in support of the walkout, which will take place at Netflix’s EPIC building in Hollywood, and will present Sarandos with a list of “firm asks.”
Ahead of the walkout, Netflix employees have released a list of demands, including increased investment in trans and non-binary content, hiring trans and non-binary content executives, especially BIPOC (black, indigenous, and other people of colour), in leading roles, and an acknowledgement of the harm caused by transphobic or anti-Black content.
Asked about this list and what the company proposes to do about it, Sarandos said that Netflix’s creative equity fund heavily invests in LGBTQIA+ stories, and especially, trans and non-binary content.
“We’ve got to take this opportunity to make sure that they know we are with them and creating this content to spread around the world and creating a great workplace for diverse and marginalized populations. We’re firmly committed to it,” he added.