Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos is admitting that he “screwed up” his initial response to the controversy surrounding Dave Chappelle‘s latest stand-up special The Closer, which drew ire for humor deemed transphobic by a number of the company’s employees.
In an internal memo leaked Oct. 11, Sarandos first acknowledged the controversy that had stemmed from The Closer, but defended Chappelle’s “artistic freedom.” He also said that Netflix had no plans to remove the special due to outside pressure. Then in a subsequent memo on Oct. 13, Sarandos doubled down on his defense of Chappelle, telling his staff that The Closer “doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm” for the LGBTQ community.
“Obviously, I screwed up that internal communication,” Sarandos now tells our sister site Variety in a new interview on Tuesday. “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.”
He adds that “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.”
Sarandos maintains that he does not believe Chappelle’s remarks can be classified as “hate speech,” and reiterates Netflix has no plans to remove The Closer from its library.
“I think it’s consistent with a brand of standup comedy and certainly consistent with Dave Chapelle’s comedy,” he says in another interview with Deadline, before adding that neither a “warning card” nor an “edit would’ve been appropriate,” either.
Released on Oct. 5, the 72-minute special was promoted as the last in a “body of work” that also included 2017’s The Age of Spin, Deep In the Heart of Texas, Equanimity and The Bird Revelation, followed by 2019’s Sticks & Stones. During The Closer, Chappelle maintains that “gender is a fact.” He goes on to say that “every human being in this room, every human being on Earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on Earth,” before likening trans women’s genitalia to two brands of plant-based meat substitutes.
Chappelle also declares his support for Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who has been condemned for comments deemed anti-trans. The comedian states that he is proudly “Team TERF,” an initialism that stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist.
The special was criticized by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), as well as Dear White People executive producer Jaclyn Moore, who declared that she would no longer work with Netflix “as long as they continue to put out and profit from blatantly and dangerously transphobic content.”
Sarandos’ initial response, meanwhile, was condemned by one of the streamer’s other stand-up stars, Hannah Gadsby, who wrote on Instagram, “F–k you and your amoral algorithm cult.”