On Tuesday, the day before the scheduled walkout organized by several trans and LGBTQ+ employees and allies at Netflix and just days after the streamer fired the walkout’s organizer, co-CEO Ted Sarandos addressed the ongoing criticism about how he handled employee concerns following the release of Dave Chappelle’s latest comedy special, The Closer.
In an interview with Variety, Sarandos admitted that he “screwed up” as it relates to internal communications between himself and staffers, adding that humanity and the acknowledgement of the pain and hurt some of them felt should have been at the forefront.
“I screwed up that internal communication. I did that, and I screwed it up in two ways, Sarandos began. “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.”
Sarandos then went on to explain what constitutes “hate speech” at the company, specifically noting that the company draws a line at any programming that intentionally calls for “physically harming other people” or removing protections. On whether or not he or Netflix believed The Closer dipped into hate speech territory, he admitted: “Under the definition of ‘does it intend to cause physical harm?’ I do not believe it falls into hate speech.”
With regard to the scheduled walkout on Wednesday and the “firm asks” from trans employees, Sarandos shared that he’d been meeting with concerned parties and listening to how they wanted to move forward, but reiterated that support for creators and their artistic freedom remains paramount.
“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. 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,” he said, later adding of the trans, non-binary, and LGBTQ+ staffers: “We’ve got to take this opportunity to make sure that they know we are with them and creating this content to spread around the world and creating a great workplace for diverse and marginalized populations. We’re firmly committed to it.”
To read Sarandos’ full interview, head to variety.com.