Netflix Co-CEO Says He 'Screwed Up' amid Backlash Over Dave Chappelle's Comedy Special

Ted Sarandos addressed his response to the concerns of Netflix employees, while also maintaining that he supports Dave Chappelle’s “artistic freedom” in his controversial comedy special on the platform


The co-CEO of Netflix says he made errors while handling internal backlash following the release of Dave Chappelle's latest comedy special.

On Tuesday, Ted Sarandos opened up to Variety about the criticism he received for how he handled the backlash in response to several controversial jokes about the LGBTQ community Chappelle's The Closer. Sarandos told the outlet that he "obviously screwed up" with addressing the concerns of Netflix employees and explaining the reason he defended Chappelle's "creative freedom" in the project.

Netflix did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

"I should have led with a lot more humanity," Sarandos told Variety. "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."

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He continued, "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."

Dave Chappelle
Dave Chappelle in The Closer. Mathieu Bitton

Sarandos told the outlet that when it comes to Netflix's protocols for defining hate speech, all employees know that there will be projects on the platform that they might not agree with, noting that everyone has different sensibilities, beliefs, and senses of humor.

Among the comments from Chappelle's comedy show that drew criticism were those specifically targeting the transgender community. Sarandos insisted to Variety that, by definition, he does not believe The Closer falls under hate speech.

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He also maintained that he will not remove the comedy special from Netflix.

"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," he told the outlet.

Sarandos shared that he's been having, and will continue to have open discussions with employees about their feelings and what changes they want to see moving forward. Last week, Netflix reinstated three employees who were recently suspended by the streamer for attending the company's quarterly business review meeting uninvited.

The suspension occurred after one of the employees, Terra Field — who identifies as queer and transgender — publicly condemned the streaming service's decision to release the special on Twitter.

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Sarandos explained in the interview that along with speaking directly to staff about concerns, the company has also invested "enormous amounts" of money into a creative equity fund to share LGBTQ stories, noting that Netflix is "firmly committed" to "creating a great workplace for diverse and marginalized populations."

"One of the things that I think is very important that I want people to understand is that, going forward, it should be really clear that I support artistic freedom and the creators that work at Netflix," Sarandos said. "I'm committed to continuing to increase representation on screen and behind the camera, and I'm always open to learn and improve on how to address these challenges."

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