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Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos says he "screwed up" his response to Dave Chappelle backlash

After a series of conspicuous firings, leaked internal messages, and some really bad PR for Netflix, Ted Sarandos is ready to say “my bad”

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Ted Sarandos, Dave Chappelle
Ted Sarandos, Dave Chappelle
Photo: Eamonn M. McCormack (Getty Images for BFI), Brian Ach (Getty Images for Universal Music Group)

Ted Sarandos wants you to know that he “screwed up.” After two weeks of suspensions, firings, internal memos, and people criticizing Chappelle’s latest attempt at making his transphobia funny, the Netflix co-CEO is ready to admit some wrongdoing. Not for the transphobia that he platformed, but rather for not leading “with a lot more humanity.”

In a late-night chat with Variety, Sarandos walked back some of his disastrous response to The Closer backlash. But, this time, rather than defending Dave Chappelle from his employees who were rightfully hurt by their boss’ decision to pay $24.1 million for Chappelle’s tirades about trans people, Sarandos has a new message: Whoopsie doodles.


When asked by Variety if he had any regrets about backing the transphobic comedian, Sarandos said:

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.

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.


Of course, this all comes after two weeks of crisis management at Netflix. During that time, the company suspended and reinstated a trans employee who criticized the special on Twitter and fired another trans employee who leaked how much Chapelle got paid for the special. The latter also organized a company walkout in solidarity with those on staff who aren’t “team TERF.” And all this for the low, low price of $24.1 million.

Sarandos failed to elaborate on how the company might avoid this in the future. We assume this is because saying that they’re not going to platform anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric might prevent them from offering future Chappelle specials. In short, he said they’re still working on it:

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.

Nevertheless, despite paying Chappelle an ungodly amount of money to attack trans people, Sarandos says that the company is still investing in “LGBTQ+ stories.” Stories, now, apparently mean something and have an impact on the world.

We have a creative equity fund that we’ve heavily invested in, exactly the things I believe they are asking about. We have and continue to invest enormously amounts of content dollars in LGBTQ+ stories for the world and giving them a global platform. Specifically, trans and non-binary content as well. That’s obviously continued strong, and I think we’ll continue on that path.


So there you go. Just because Sarandos is willing to pay Chappelle $24 million for what GLAAD called “anti-LGBTQ diatribes” doesn’t mean he won’t put some money towards cultivating LGBTQIA+ subscribers. Money’s money, after all.

Read the whole interview at Variety.