Netflix CEO Admits He 'Screwed Up' Response To Dave Chappelle Controversy, But Employees Still Engage In A Walkout

Netflix's co-CEO Ted Sarandos revealed to Variety on October 19 that he regrets his last comments about the fallout behind Dave Chapelle's latest comedy special, "The Closer," which has been criticized for being transphobic. He told the outlet:

"Obviously, I screwed up that internal communication. I did that, and 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. [...] We landed with some things that were much more blanket and matter-of-fact that are not at all accurate. 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. [...] 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... there will be things on Netflix that you dislike. That you even find to be harmful. Where we'll definitely draw the line is on something that would intentionally call for physically harming other people or even remove protections."

In a company-wide email dated October 11, Sarandos initially communicated with Netflix staffers and made extremely controversial claims in response to the backlash. "With 'The Closer,' we understand that the concern is not about offensive-to-some content but titles which could increase real world harm (such as further marginalizing already marginalized groups, hate, violence etc.)," he wrote at the time. "While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn't directly translate to real-world harm."

Throughout the special, Chappelle makes light of his reputation by jokingly referring to himself as transphobic, going as far as to defend "Harry Potter" author, J.K. Rowling, who has also been accused of transphobic behaviors and beliefs. Additionally, he shares a story about a transgender comedian who allegedly committed suicide after dealing with online harassment following her defense of the "Half Baked" star. At the end of his act, Chappelle pleaded with the LGBTQ+ community to stop "punching down" at comedians. Unsurprisingly, the special was immediately panned by many because of the insensitive and offensive content.

How Big the Scandal Has Grown

On October 16, a Black trans employee was fired from the company for allegedly sharing "confidential, commercially sensitive information" publicly. The leaked report claimed that Netflix spent $24.1 million on "The Closer," which is how much "Squid Game" — AKA the company's biggest debut hit thus far — cost the streamer for a more complex production.

Trans Netflix employees and their allies went on to plan a walkout in protest and took action on October 20 in Hollywood near the streaming giant's offices. Their specific demands were not initially clear, but organizers read out a list that will later be presented to Sarandos, according to Deadline. These demands include:

  • Eliminate references/imagery of Chappelle inside of the workplace, including but not limited to murals, posters, room names, swag

  • Acknowledgement that the special causes harm to the trans community and Netflix's responsibility on it so we keep the conversation around transphobia evolving internally

  • Trans and non-binary content investment

  • Investment in trans or non-binary content on Netflix comparable to our total investment in transphobic content, including comparable investment in the promotion of content

  • The comparable class of investments should include but not be limited to works produced by Dave Chappelle (such as the investment in "The Closer" and "Sticks and Stones"), Ricky Gervais' "After Life," etc.

  • Investment in multiple trans creators to make both scripted and unscripted programs across genres

  • Revisit internal processes on commissioning and/or releasing potential harmful content, involving numerous and diverse parties that can speak on its harm, including consultation on third party vendors

  • Revisit the ERG role in conversations around potential harmful content and develop materials to ensure we have the best in class regional support on complicated diversity issues

  • Hire transgender content executives in leading positions and promote and inclusive environment for them

  • Recruit trans people for leadership roles in the company (director, VP, etc) and promote and inclusive environment for them

  • The ability for Trans* employees and allies to be able to remove themselves from company promotional content (e.g. allyship videos, etc.)

  • A disclaimer before "The Closer" specifically saying it contains transphobic language, misogyny, homophobia, and hate speech

  • Boost promotion for "Disclosure" and other trans-affirming titles in the platform