The last two weeks have seen a furor erupt around the Dave Chappelle’s latest Netflix stand-up special, The Closer. It’s the fourth such show where he’s devoted a chunk of space to jokes about the trans community, which have enraged the company’s trans employees as well as other comics whose specials have aired on the streamer. The response from Netflix top brass has been fairly chaotic, including firing an employee who organized a (still on) walk-out and a number of strange responses from co-CEO Ted Sarandos.
Now Sarandos is walking his response back — sort of. In a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the exec addresses the pushback against his much-disliked attempts to mollify the situation.
“I can tell you I screwed up those communications in two ways. One of them was, I should have first and foremost acknowledged in those emails that a group of our employees were in pain, and they were really feeling hurt from a business decision that we made. And I, instead of acknowledging that first, I went right into some rationales. And so first of all, I’d say those emails lacked humanity, in which I like to and I do generally communicate with our teams.”
He also tried to deflect the criticism by claiming the memos, which were sent to staff company-wide, were from a “leaked email out of context,” and that “it was just very clumsy, internal communications that went public.” But he did reverse course on one of his more controversial claims, which was that entertainment didn’t have real-life consequences. “Of course, content, storytelling causes change in the world, sometimes hugely positive and sometimes negative,” he told THR.
All that being said, as for Chappelle’s new special, he said, “No, my stance hasn’t changed.” But he tried to thread the needle about allowing for “artistic expression” and not, you know, contributing to unfair stereotypes about the trans community:
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. 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.
Sarandos also said he would not be adding a disclaimer to The Closer, as some employees had asked. “The content is age restricted already for language,” he said, “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.”
He also drew a curious conclusion about the palace revolt still going on in his company. “This group of employees felt a little betrayed because we’ve created such a great place to work that they forgot that sometimes these challenges will come up,” he claimed.