Mere hours before a planned walkout from Netflix’s trans and allied workers over comments made by Dave Chappelle in a recent special, co-CEO Ted Sarandos has said he “screwed up” over his response to employees over outrage from within the company.
Chappelle’s special The Closer debuted on the streaming service earlier this month and immediately came under fire from members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community as well as Netflix employees who criticized the special as being transphobic. Sarandos, for his part, has stood by the special, telling employees that Netflix doesn’t allow titles on its service “that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe The Closer crosses that line.”
In an interview with Variety published on the eve of the planned walkout, the Netflix executive says he “should have led with a lot more humanity” in his internal responses to his employees, though he continues to defend the special on the grounds of “creative freedom and artistic expression.”
“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,” Sarandos tells the publication. “I didn’t do that. That was uncharacteristic for me, and it was moving fast and we were trying to answer some really specific questions that were floating. We landed with some things that were much more blanket and matter-of-fact that are not at all accurate.”
When asked to define how Netflix defines hate speech, Sarandos said that the company draws the line “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.”
Separately, Sarandos spoke with The Hollywood Reporter — also for an interview published late Tuesday ahead of the planned walkout. As he did in his interview with Variety, Sarandos makes it clear that he stands by the special but characterizes his response to criticism of The Closer as a “just very clumsy, internal communications that went public.”
In both interviews, Sarandos says he’s been meeting with Netflix employees about their position on the special. But he reiterates repeatedly in both that the company heavily values what he characterized as “artistic expression” and adds that Netflix would continue to stand by that position as part of its ethos.