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Netflix Co-CEO Says He “Screwed Up” Over Chappelle Backlash

Ted Sarandos, co-CEO of Netflix, has acknowledged he “screwed up” over his response to employee indignation over statements made by Dave Chappelle in a recent special, just hours before a planned walkout by trans and associated workers at the business.

Chappelle’s Netflix special The Closer aired earlier this month and was instantly panned by LGBTQ+ community members and supporters, as well as Netflix workers, who slammed the program as transphobic. Sarandos, for one, has defended the special, telling Netflix staff that the site does not accept titles “that are meant to inspire hate or violence, and we don’t feel The Closer exceeds that boundary.”

The Netflix CEO admits he “could have led with a lot more empathy” in his internal replies to his workers in an interview with Variety published on the eve of the scheduled walkout, while he continues to defend the special on the basis of “creative freedom and artistic expression.”

“In other words, I had a group of people who were clearly in pain and suffering as a result of a choice we made.” And I believe it has to be addressed right up front before you get into the nitty gritty of things,” Sarandos tells the newspaper. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t do it.” That was unusual for me, and things were moving quickly, and we were attempting to answer some very specific issues that had been flying about. We came up with some statements that were considerably more broad and matter-of-fact, but they were far from true.”

When asked how Netflix defines hate speech, Sarandos said the business sets a boundary “on anything that would actively call for bodily injuring other people or even removing safeguards.” Intent to do bodily damage, in my opinion, crosses the line.”

Separately, before of the scheduled walkout, Sarandos talked with The Hollywood Reporter for an interview that was published late Tuesday. Sarandos reiterates his support for the special, as he did in his interview with Variety, but describes his response to criticism of The Closer as “simply really sloppy, internal messages that became public.”

Sarandos said he’s been speaking with Netflix workers about their perspectives on the program in both interviews. However, he emphasizes in both that Netflix places a high emphasis on what he calls “creative expression” and that the business would continue to hold that viewpoint as part of its culture.

Sarandos also talked with Deadline and The Wall Street Journal, among other outlets. In all of his cited discussions, his views are largely the same.

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