NEW YORK – Greek-American Netflix Co-Chief Executive Ted Sarandos in an interview with Variety on October 19 said that “he ‘screwed up’ in the handling of employee concerns” over The Closer, a recent comedy special by Dave Chappelle in which the comedian made remarks that some viewed as offensive to the transgender community.
According to the Associated Press, Netflix released a statement on October 15 noting that it had fired an employee for disclosing confidential financial information about what it paid for Chappelle’s comedy special The Closer, which some condemned as being transphobic.
The employee, who wasn’t named, shared “confidential, commercially sensitive information outside the company,” the Netflix statement said.
“We understand this employee may have been motivated by disappointment and hurt with Netflix, but maintaining a culture of trust and transparency is core to our company,” the statement said.
The statement said the information was referenced in a Bloomberg news article, which reported that Netflix spent $24.1 million on The Closer, which first aired October 5. The article also mentioned the lower budgets for a 2019 Chapelle special, a Bo Burnham special, and the nine-episode hit Squid Game.
Netflix said a review of its internal access logs pinpointed the information to a single person, who “admitted that they downloaded and shared sensitive company information externally.”
The media watchdog group GLAAD said that “anti-LGBTQ content” violates Netflix’s policy to reject programs that incite hate or violence.
However, Sarandos at that time told managers in an internal memo that the show doesn’t cross “the line on hate” and would remain on the streaming service.
Several Netflix employees, including a software engineer who identifies as transgender, had criticized the special. Transgender employees and their co-workers are being urged to stage a walkout in protest.
“Our leadership has shown us that they do not uphold the values for which we are held,” said in an October 11 post on a public company Slack channel, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Sarandos told Variety on October 19: “Obviously, I screwed up that internal communication. 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.”
Sarandos continued: 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.”
When asked what “crosses the line” at Netflix, Sarandos told Variety: “We are trying to support creative freedom and artistic expression among the artists that work at Netflix. Sometimes, and we do make sure our employees understand this, because of that — because we’re trying to entertain the world, and the world is made up of folks with a lot of different sensibilities and beliefs and senses of humor and all those things — sometimes, there will be things on Netflix that you dislike. That you even find to be harmful. Where we’ll definitely draw the line is on something that would intentionally call for physically harming other people or even remove protections. For me, intent to cause physical harm crosses the line, for sure.”
Sarandos also told Variety that “I do not believe it falls into hate speech” under the definition “does it intend to cause physical harm.”
When asked if the special will remain on the streaming service, where it has already garnered millions of views, Sarandos told Variety: “I don’t believe there have been many calls to remove it.”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.