Last week, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos invoked “artistic integrity and free speech” to defend comedian Dave Chappelle’s special “The Closer,” saying it represented artistic freedom.
However, this week, he has already begun to cave and has walked back his comments after some employees within Netflix threaten to walkout.
“I should have recognized the fact that a group of employees was really hurting,” Sarandos said. He added that he “screwed” up in handling the backlash towards the special from employees.
“What I should have led with in those emails was humanity. I should have recognized the fact that a group of our employees was really hurting,” Sarandos added.
The comments came a day before a planned walk-out by some employees.
Sarandos walked back his prior comment that the content did not contribute to harm in the real world: “To be clear, storytelling has an impact in the real world… Sometimes quite negative.”
Following the Chappelle special, released last week, the comedian and the streaming service were severely criticized by some employees.
In the stand-up comedy, Chappelle insinuated gender is a fact, saying: “The fact is, every human being in this room, every human being on Earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on earth.”
Although Sarandos walked back his support for Chappelle in the controversy, the special will not be removed and Netflix, he says.
“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,” Sarandos said.
According to Variety, Sarandos wrote a memo stating: “Chapelle is one of the most popular stand-up comedians today, and we have a long-standing deal with him. His last special, “Sticks & Stones,” also controversial, is our most-watched, stickiest and most award winning stand-up special to date.”
The employees that staged the walkout had several demands for their employer:
“We want the company to adopt measures in the areas of content investment, employee relations and safety, and harm reduction, all of which are necessary to avoid future instances of platforming transphobia and hate speech.”
They also want the company to begin flagging “transphobic language, misogyny, homophobia, hate speech, etc.” through disclaimers. Additionally, they want the company to employ more “non-binary” and trans people to executive positions.