Netflix co-CEO won’t pull Chappelle special, but says ‘I screwed up’

Netflix employees staged a "virtual walkout" Wednesday in response to the streaming giant's handling of fallout from Dave Chappelle's "The Closer."

Ted Sarandos, co-CEO of Netflix, is holding firm, refusing to remove Dave Chappelle’s stand-up special The Closer after much criticism and a planned employee walkout. However, he is admitting that he “screwed up” his response to the employees, and Netflix stated it will not deter them from the Oct. 20 walkout.

Sarandos explained to Variety how he should have handled the pushback from company workers who criticized Chappelle’s special of being transphobic. He initially sent a memo to Netflix employees, explaining why he wasn’t going to have the special pulled.

In the memo, Sarandos stated, “Netflix has a policy that content ‘designed to incite hate or violence’ is not allowed on the platform, but we all know that anti-LGBTQ content does exactly that. Several of you have also asked where we draw the line on hate. We don’t allow titles Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe ‘The Closer’ crosses that line.”

Dave Chappelle
Dave Chappelle looks on during UFC 264: Poirier v McGregor 3 at T-Mobile Arena on July 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, the eve of a planned employee walkout in response to the special, Sarandos told Variety that he “screwed up” in the way he communicated to staff via the memo, recognizing that it lacked empathy. “What I should have led with in those emails was humanity,” Sarandos said. “I should have recognized the fact that a group of our employees was really hurting.”

Although he initially stated that he felt that Chappelle’s jokes don’t “incite hate or violence” in the memo, Sarandos clarified that point. “To be clear, storytelling has an impact in the real world…sometimes quite negative,” he said. “We have articulated to our employees that there are going to be things you don’t like. There are going to be things that you might feel are harmful. But we are trying to entertain a world with varying tastes and varying sensibilities and various beliefs, and I think this special was consistent with that.”

Despite admitting he mishandled his response, Sarandos stands firm in his decision to keep The Closer on the streaming service.

“I’m firmly committed to continue to support artistic freedom for the creators who work with Netflix and increase representation behind the screen and on camera, noting these goals may at times be in conflict with each other,” he said. “We have to figure out how to navigate those challenges.”

More than 100 people gathered outside of Netflix’s headquarters Wednesday for the “Stand Up’ In Solidarity” rally in concert with the employee walkout. Netflix announced in a Wednesday statement that the company will respect the walkout and the employees who take part.

US Online Streaming Giant Netflix : Illustration
PARIS, FRANCE – SEPTEMBER 19: In this photo illustration the Netflix logo is seen on September 19, 2014 in Paris, France. Netflix September 15 launched service in France, the first of six European countries planned in the coming months. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

“We value our trans colleagues and allies, and understand the deep hurt that’s been caused,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement. “We respect the decision of any employee who chooses to walk out, and recognize we have much more work to do both within Netflix and in our content.”

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