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Netflix's Ted Sarandos admits "I screwed up" while continuing to defend Dave Chappelle

  • On the eve of a planned Netflix employee walkout over Chappelle's The Closer organized by trans and LGBTQ+ staffers, Netflix co-CEO Sarandos admitted he did a bad job handling the special's fallout. "Obviously, I screwed up that internal communication," he told Variety, referring to two memos he sent in wake of the controversy. "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. And I think that needs to be acknowledged up front before you get into the nuts and bolts of anything. I didn’t do that. That was uncharacteristic for me, and it was moving fast and we were trying to answer some really specific questions that were floating. 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. So, I would have been better in that communication. They were joining a conversation already in progress, but out of context. But that happens, internal emails go out. In all my communications I should lean into the humanity up front and not make a blanket statement that could land very differently than it was intended." Sarandos reiterated that he doesn't believe The Closer amounts to hate speech and says there haven't been many calls to remove the special. "I 100 percent believe that content on screen can have impact in the real world, positive and negative," he told The Hollywood Reporter. But his stance on The Closer hasn't changed. "When we think about this challenge we have to entertain the world, part of that challenge means that you’ve got audiences with various taste, various sensibilities, various beliefs," he said. "You really can’t please everybody or the content would be pretty dull. And we do tell our employees upfront that we are trying to entertain our members, and that some of the content on Netflix you’re not going to like, and so this kind of commitment to artistic expression and free artistic expression is sometimes in conflict with people feeling protected and safe. I do think that that’s something that we struggle with all the time when these two values bump up against each other. But I do think that the inclusion of the special on Netflix is consistent with our comedy offering, it’s consistent with Dave Chappelle’s comedy brand and this is … one of those times when there’s something on Netflix that you’re not going to like." Asked if he would be willing to add a disclaimer to The Closer, Sarandos responded: "The content is age restricted already for language, and Dave himself gives a very explicit warning at the beginning of the show, so I don’t think it would be appropriate in this case."


    • Former Netflix employee fired for allegedly leaking internal data speaks out: B. Pagels-Minor, a former program manager at Netflix who is Black, pregnant and transgender, acknowledged being the fired worker in an interview on Tuesday with The New York Times. Pagel-Minor, who uses gender-neutral pronouns and who was leader of both the transgender and Black employee resource groups at Netflix, "categorically denies leaking sensitive information to the press," according to their attorney. In a statement, a Netflix spokesperson said that “while we would never normally talk about an investigation like this,” the company contends that “this employee admitted sharing confidential information externally from their Netflix email on several occasions.” The statement added that “they were the only employee to access detailed, sensitive data on four titles that later appeared in the press.” In an interview with The Times, Pagels-Minor said that they found Ted Sarandos' memos last week "very dismissive." "The tone of the message was basically like: You employees can’t possibly understand the nuance of comedy, and that’s why you’re upset,” Pagels-Minor said. “That’s not the point. It’s not that we don’t understand comedy. It’s that this comedy has tones of hatred. And what are we going to do to mitigate that?” Pagels-Minor, who is 33 weeks pregnant, added: "I don’t have any ill will toward Netflix. I want them to be successful, but the only way to succeed is to hold themselves to the values they expound.”
    • Why is a multibillion corporation so intent on giving a famous man a huge platform for biased speech?: "And why is it determined to protect him from the entirely predictable consequences?" asks Maureen Ryan. She adds: "I cannot get over the fact that Netflix fired a Black, pregnant trans person without the least consideration of how that would look in general, let alone at this moment. It’s a P.R.-fail cherry on top of a bullsh*t sundae. The infuriating irony is that Netflix is well aware that its offerings—and its actions as a company—have real-world consequences. The company removed a graphic scene from 13 Reasons Why well after activists objected to its portrayal of suicide. Netflix has also touted its deals with an inclusive array of creators and, in dozens of ways, tried to set itself apart from stodgy broadcast networks and other old media—you know, the companies that allegedly don’t get it. But the streamer’s declarations of difference sound hollow, especially in recent weeks, when I haven’t been able to get two similar statements out of my head. In 2019, after it emerged that Eliza Dushku had allegedly been harassed on the show Bull, written off the series, and paid a $9.5 million settlement, CBS executive Kelly Kahl was asked why nothing had changed at the drama. 'More than 10 million people watch every week. (Star) Michael (Weatherly) is loved by our audience, and even after these allegations came out, people continue to watch,' Kahl told the press. Two years later we have Sarandos asserting the following in one of his memos: 'Chappelle 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.' So it was sticky. Got it. Perhaps we can at least put to bed the notion that Netflix (or any other supposed 'disruptor') does business any differently than anyone else—something we should have all realized in 2019, when news broke that Netflix pulled an episode of Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act from Saudi Arabia at the country’s legal request. This time around, trans lives matter—until they interfere with the pursuit of deals, profits, and 'stickiness,' and then, well, not so much."
    • Will any of Netflix’s big names lean on the company?: "At the moment, very few major stars or producers with deals at Netflix have publicly spoken against the streamer’s decision to platform Chappelle’s anti-trans rhetoric," says Josef Adalian. "But what happens if, during Wednesday’s planned employee walkout, a bunch of Netflix talent — folks with big followings — starts posting condemnations of Chappelle and Netflix? Until now, Sarandos has positioned himself as a champion of artistic integrity and a defender of free speech. That narrative could shift if many of the people Sarandos believes he is fighting for come out and say, no, actually, this isn’t about 'freedom' after all. Of course, even if a slew of boldface names suddenly start expressing solidarity with Netflix employees, it probably won’t have much of an impact unless they back it up with threats to stop working with the streamer. If that happens, Sarandos may suddenly become a bit less strident with his 'defend Dave at all costs' philosophy."

    TOPICS: Ted Sarandos, Netflix, Dave Chappelle: The Closer, B. Pagels-Minor, Dave Chappelle, LGBTQ, Standup Comedy