Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos admitted that he “screwed up” his response to the fallout from Dave Chappelle’s controversial comedy special, “The Closer” — but he still stands behind the show.
The stand-up special, released earlier this month, faced backlash over jokes and comments Chapelle, 48, made about transgender women.
In it, the irreverent funnyman declared “gender is a fact” and identified himself as a “TERF,” or “trans-exclusionary radical feminist.”
The show, Chapelle’s sixth and final big-bucks deal with Netflix, was quickly blasted as “transphobic” by critics — and sparked a planned employee walk-out.
But in emails to Netflix staff earlier this month amid the backlash, Sarandos, who’s also the company’s chief content officer, said that the company would not take down the show.
“What I should have led with in those emails was humanity,” Sarandos told The Wall Street Journal Tuesday evening. “I should have recognized the fact that a group of our employees was really hurting.”
In the interview with the Journal, Sarandos also walked back his assertion that content doesn’t cause real-world harm.
“To be clear, storytelling has an impact in the real world…sometimes quite negative,” he said.
Still, Sarandos stuck by his decision to stand behind Chapelle, instead acknowledging that he faltered in how he communicated his decision to employees.
“We have articulated to our employees that there are going to be things you don’t like,” Sarandos said.
“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,” he added.
Standup comedy is “designed to stir up emotions” he said, adding that “sometimes inclusion and artistic expression bump into each other.”
Meanwhile, a transgender-employee group at Netflix is encouraging all workers to take Wednesday off in protest against Netflix’s handling of the fallout from the Chapelle special.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Netflix sought to strike a more conciliatory tone in response to the walkout. “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.
The company later said that Field was suspended not for the tweets but instead for barging in on an executives-only meeting, along with two others.
Despite the mounting controversy, “The Closer” is currently in the top 10 most popular Netflix shows in the US, and it was as high as No. 3 earlier this week.
Part of the comedy special featured Chapelle’s recounting of his friendship with late trans comedian Daphne Dorman, whose family described Chapelle as an “LGBTQ ally.”