On the eve of a planned employee walkout at the streaming giant – hosted by trans and LGBTQ + staff, content creators and allies – Sarandos addressed many points related to Chappelle’s recent jokes that have infuriated him. the trans community and have been identified as harmful.
Events around “The Closer” were a rare blunder for Sarandos and Netflix, whose deep pockets and warm relationships with talent transformed the global entertainment industry for nearly a decade. In our conversation, he readily admits that he “screwed up” in dealing with employee concerns, and talks more specifically about what the company does and doesn’t consider hate speech.
Read Sarandos Tuesday Q&A with Variety:
Do you have any regrets about the way this process was handled, especially in your internal communication with employees?
Ted Sarandos: Obviously, I messed up this internal communication. I did, and I messed up in two ways. First and foremost, I should have led with a lot more humanity. This meant that I had a group of employees who were really feeling pain and grief because of a decision we made. And I think that needs to be recognized up front before I get into the details of anything. I did not do this. It wasn’t characteristic for me, and it was moving fast and we were trying to answer some really specific questions that were floating around. We landed with much more general and factual things that are not at all accurate.
Of course, storytelling has a real impact in the real world. I repeat this because that’s why I work here, that’s why we do what we do. This impact can be extremely positive, and it can be very negative. So, I would have been better in this communication. They were joining a conversation already underway, but out of context. But it happens, internal emails go out. In all of my communications, I had to focus on humanity up front and not make a general statement that might end up very differently from what was expected.
What is the protocol for defining hate speech at Netflix? What crosses the line and what doesn’t?
We try to support creative freedom and artistic expression among the artists who work at Netflix. Sometimes, and we make sure our people understand that, because of that – because we’re trying to entertain the world, and the world is made up of people with a lot of different sensibilities and beliefs and sense of humor and all of them. these things. – sometimes there will be things on Netflix that you don’t like. Which you even find harmful. Where we’re definitely going to draw the line is on something that would intentionally call for physically harming other people or even removing protections. For me, the intention to cause physical harm crosses the line, that’s for sure.
Have you spoken to Dave Chappelle since this happened?
I know he’s done a few COVID tour dates in Europe so I’ve only touched him a few times.
Was the content of those conversations about the special or the Netflix employees?
No. I would generally say he enjoyed supporting the show and his ability to play his part.
I want to go back and ask definitely, do you personally and Netflix think “The Closer” doesn’t amount to hate speech?
Under the definition of “does he intend to cause physical harm?” I don’t think this is hate speech.
So the special will stay on the serve?
I don’t believe there have been many calls to delete it.
For tomorrow’s release, there is a list of “firm demands” from trans employees to rectify this situation. Where are you to hear them, and is something emerging as a priority in dealing with the “pain” of some employees, as you put it?
I have spent the last two days listening to people and sitting down with them, knowing where they are at and how they are feeling and what they would like to see moving forward. I continue to do this now. One of the things that I think is very important and that I want people to understand is that in the future it should be very clear that I support artistic freedom and the creators who work at Netflix. I am committed to continuing to increase the representation on screen and behind the camera, and I am always open to learning and improving on how to meet these challenges.
Is there anything more specifically achievable on the list of demands, like a call for a new fund for trans and non-binary talent to be created?
We have a creative equity fund that we’ve invested heavily in exactly the things I think they’re asking for. We have invested and continue to invest huge amounts of content dollars in LGBTQ + stories for the world and to provide them with a global platform. Specifically, trans and non-binary content as well. It has obviously continued strong, and I think we will continue on this path. What’s important to remember is that we have incredible growth in our employee base, and a lot of people have joined during COVID and have never met anyone from Netflix. It is very difficult to understand the history of the company, to know where we are, what we do and what kind of people we are. We need to seize this opportunity to make sure they know that we are with them and that we are creating this content to spread around the world and to create a great place to work for diverse and marginalized populations. We are firmly committed to it.
Part of Netflix’s success lies in its relationships with talent. Have you had any feedback from your creators on global offers, one-off projects, or someone outside of Netflix but in the creative community?
Yes, in the normal course of conversations with people all the time, they are all curious about these situations. There are people who really appreciate the artistic freedom part, and I think they struggle with certain things as well. But yeah, I’ve had a lot of conversations with our creators in and out of the comedy space.