Netflix co-CEO walks back support for Chappelle in balancing act between audience and activists

Ted Sarandos, Netflix's co-CEO, backed down in his defence of comedian Dave Chappelle, as the company tries to balance pleasing both its audience and its employees.

Netflix co-CEO walks back support for Chappelle in balancing act between audience and activists
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Thornhill
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Netflix is backing down from its previous defence of comedian Dave Chappelle who faced the wrath of a cancel campaign with the release of his special The Closer — but not entirely. The company is engaged in a delicate balancing act between appeasing a minority of woke activists and the majority of its viewers.

Chappelle enraged the community of transgender social justice activists on Twitter, who blasted the comedian for making jokes about transgender and non-binary individuals. Chappelle had also made fun of blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics and Jews, but received far less backlash for those jokes.

Following The Closer’s launch, a number of transgender employees at the company spoke out against their employer and initiated a plan to stage a walkout in protest of Chappelle, Rebel News reported.

One of the employees who organized the walkout was unceremoniously terminated from their position for leaking internal metrics to the press.

The company’s co-CEO, Ted Sarandos, who previously defended the special, is now caving to the mob, stating he “screwed up.”

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal in response to the controversy surrounding The Closer — which has received overwhelming praise from most of its viewers — Sarandos said that he should not have dismissed or even downplayed the backlash Chappelle triggered with his jokes about transgender people.

“What I should have led with in those emails was humanity,” Sarandos told the publication. “I should have recognized the fact that a group of our employees was really hurting.”

“To be clear, storytelling has an impact in the real world…sometimes quite negative,” Sarandos added. “We have articulated to our employees that there are going to be things you don’t like. There are going to be things that you might feel are harmful. But we are trying to entertain a world with varying tastes and varying sensibilities and various beliefs, and I think this special was consistent with that.”

The memo Sarandos previously dispatched to Netflix employees, which he is now walking back on (if only somewhat), read as follows:

I wanted to follow-up on the “The Closer” — Dave Chappelle’s latest special — as several of you have reached out following QBR asking what to say to your teams. It never feels good when people are hurting, especially our colleagues, so I wanted to give you some additional context. You should also be aware that some talent may join third parties in asking us to remove the show in the coming days, which we are not going to do.

Chappelle is one of the most popular stand-up comedians today, and we have a long standing deal with him. His last special “Sticks & Stones,” also controversial, is our most watched., stickiest and most award winning stand-up special to date. As with our other talent, we work hard to support their creative freedom – even though this means there will always be content on Netflix some people believe is harmful, like “Cuties,” “365 Days,” “13 Reasons Why” or “My Unorthodox Life.””

Several of you have also asked where we draw the line on hate. We don’t allow titles Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe The Closer crosses that line. I recognize, however, that distinguishing between commentary and harm is hard, especially with stand-up comedy which exists to push boundaries. Some people find the art of stand-up to be mean-spirited but our members enjoy it, and it’s an important part of our content offering.

In terms of our commitment to inclusion, we’re working hard to ensure more people see their lives reflected on screen and that under-represented communities are not defined by the singe story. So we’re proud of titles like “Sex Education,” “Young Royals,” “Control Z” and “Disclosure.” Externally, particularly in stand-up comedy, artistic freedom is obviously a very different standard of speech than we allow internally as the goals are different: entertaining people versus maintaining a respectful, productive workplace.

Today’s conversation on Entertain the World was timely. These are hard and uncomfortable issues. We all bring different values and perspectives so thank you for being part of the conversation as it’s important we’re clear about our operating principals.

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  • By Ezra Levant

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