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Netflix CEO Admits He “Screwed Up” While Defending Dave Chappelle Special

Dave Chappelle in his new Netflix special, ‘The Closer.’ Mathieu Bitton


Netflix CEO Admits He “Screwed Up” While Defending Dave Chappelle Special


Ted Sarandos, Co-Chief Executive of Netflix Inc., said that he “screwed up” in his attempts to engage with workers who were angry over Dave Chappelle’s recent comedy special “The Closer,” in which he made statements that some found insulting to the transgender community.

Sarandos’ remarks come after widespread condemnation of Chappelle’s Netflix special The Closer, which was labeled homophobic and transphobic by many. The one-off, like most of the comic’s recent material, includes gags about transgender people’s anatomy, pronouns, and the rapper DaBaby – who made contentious statements about HIV/AIDS earlier this year – among other topics.

Sarandos has since expressed remorse for how he handled the employee problem. In an interview with Variety, he said, “Obviously, I screwed up that internal communication. 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.”

Some Netflix employees are planning a walkout in protest of the company’s decision to broadcast Chappelle’s special, as well as an internal message that they believe disregarded their concerns.

Mr. Sarandos defended “The Closer” in emails to Netflix employees after the special’s premiere earlier this month, noting the show’s popularity on the platform and the company’s dedication to creative freedom. He also stated that “content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”

Some folks “find [stand-up] to be mean-spirited but our members enjoy it, and it’s an important part of our content offering,” Sarandos said in a previous memo about Chappelle.


Now, Sarandos told Variety, “of course storytelling has real impact in the real world” and that he would’ve “been better in that communication.”

He told the trade outlet, “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.”

Mr. Sarandos, who is also Netflix’s chief content officer, said he has no regrets about the decision to carry “The Closer,” and that there are no plans to take it off the site.

Sarandos also claims to have checked in with Chappelle after the outrage over his show began, noting how the comic expressed his gratitude for the support. He goes on to say that he’s been talking to enraged workers about how to satisfy their requests for more LGBTQ material on the platform, but that he loves artistic freedom above everything and will stick to it in order to keep the company’s ties with talent and creators intact. “One of the things that I think is very important that I want people to understand is that, going forward, it should be really clear that I support artistic freedom and the creators that work at Netflix. I’m committed to continuing to increase representation on screen and behind the camera, and I’m always open to learn and improve on how to address these challenges.”

He also stated that Netflix will not include a disclaimer in front of the show, as requested by workers, citing Chappelle’s own caution at the start.

Sarandos also highlighted the company’s “allyship” with the LGBTQ+ community, which includes “massive investment in content, creators, and storytellers.” Despite this, many people are sure to be unhappy with the situation. Hannah Gadsby, a lesbian comedian who has done two specials for the streamer and was included in Sarandos’ email on October 11, called the company a “amoral algorithm cult” and asked Sarandos “not to drag my name into your mess” on Instagram on October 15.

“The Closer” is now ranked in the top ten most popular Netflix programs in the United States, having climbed as high as third earlier this week. Mr. Chappelle has produced many Netflix specials, all of which have been very successful.

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