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Netflix Co-CEO Sarandos Says He 'Screwed Up' In Defending Dave Chappelle

Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) Co-CEO Ted Sarandos has aggressively back-pedaled on his efforts defending the streaming service’s Dave Chappelle special “The Closer” over the objections of employees who complained of the comic’s jokes on the LGBTQ community. Sarandos stated he “screwed up” in his communications to his workforce.

What Happened: On Oct. 8, Sarandos sent a memo to the Netflix managers with guidance on how to address the anger some employees felt over the Chappelle special, which led to the threat of a day-long walkout on Oct. 20.

“We don’t believe ‘The Closer’ crosses that line,” Sarandos said in his memo. “I recognize, however, that distinguishing between commentary and harm is hard, especially with stand-up comedy which exists to push boundaries. Some people find the art of stand-up to be mean-spirited but our members enjoy it, and it’s an important part of our content offering.”

Sarandos followed that messaging with a memo to the wider company, defending the Chappelle content and rejecting the notion that anti-LGBTQ humor can lead to real-life violence against the demographic.

“While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm,” he stated.

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What Happened Next: Sarandos offered a different sentiment in a Wall Street Journal interview, stating he handled the situation badly.

“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. To be clear, storytelling has an impact in the real world – sometimes quite negative.”

Sarandos, who is also Netflix’s chief content officer, said there were no plans to remove “The Closer” from the platform and still insisted it belonged before the public.

“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.”

Sarandos also insisted that Netflix’s programming was supportive of the LGBTQ community and that the company would “continue to support artistic freedom for the creators who work with Netflix and increase representation behind the screen and on camera.”

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

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