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Netflix CEO ‘Screwed Up,’ but still stands by Dave Chappelle’s ‘The Closer’

“Under the definition of ‘does it intend to cause physical harm?’ I do not believe it falls into hate speech,” Ted Sarandos said of the stand-up special

By Althea Legaspi

Dave Chappelle performs for Netflix
Dave Chappelle performs for Netflix (Picture: Mathieu Biton)

Netflix has been under fire for Dave Chappelle’s ‘The Closer’, which detractors have lambasted for transphobic material. The company’s handling of the debacle has also been met with criticism, which the organization’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos addressed in a new interview with Variety.

In a memo to staff leaked last week, Sarandos doubled-down on defending the Chappelle special, writing, “content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”

“Obviously, I screwed up that internal communication,” he said in the new interview, adding he should’ve led with “more humanity.”

“Of course storytelling has real impact in the real world,” he acknowledged. “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.”

“Where we’ll definitely draw the line is on something that would intentionally call for physically harming other people or even remove protections,” he said. “For me, intent to cause physical harm crosses the line, for sure.”

That said, Sarandos reiterated his stance to support artistic freedom and expression even if it offends others, and added that The Closer stays above the crossing-the-line mark for him: “Under the definition of ‘does it intend to cause physical harm?’ I do not believe it falls into hate speech.”

The interview comes after outrage sparked over commentary in the stand-up special, which included Chappelle comparing trans peoples’ genitals to plant-based meat substitutes, and where he proclaimed himself a TERF (a trans-exclusionary radical feminist).

Netflix has been under further scrutiny for incidents that transpired following the special’s airing. A trans employee spoke up against the special and was one of three employees who were suspended then reinstated a few days later (the company says the suspension was due to the workers attempting to attend a top executive meeting).

A walkout has also been planned by transgender employees and allies, which is now scheduled for Wednesday. One of the organising employees, a pregnant Black woman, was subsequently fired for reportedly leaking internal metrics about The Closer.