Gadsby and Netflix Employees Pressure Executive Over Dave Chappelle Special
In a town-hall-style meeting on Friday, Ted Sarandos, a co-chief executive of Netflix, faced criticism from staff over Mr. Chappelle’s “The Closer.”,
At Netflix, a star and employees pressure a top executive over Dave Chappelle’s special.
By John Koblin
- Oct. 15, 2021Updated 5:18 p.m. ET
Tensions at Netflix continued to flare on Friday, 10 days after the release of a special by the comedian Dave Chappelle that critics inside and outside the company have described as promoting bigotry against transgender people.
Early on Friday, a Netflix star criticized the company and Ted Sarandos, a co-chief executive, in a stinging social media post. Later in the day, Netflix said it had fired an employee for sharing documents related to Mr. Chappelle with a reporter, and Mr. Sarandos fielded pointed questions from employees during a companywide virtual meeting.
In a rare public rebuke, the Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby upbraided Mr. Sarandos by name for his defense of Mr. Chappelle. Ms. Gadsby, whose 2017 Netflix special, “Nanette,” earned an Emmy and a Peabody Award, is the most prominent entertainer to criticize Mr. Sarandos and Netflix, which she referred to in an Instagram post as an “amoral algorithm cult.”
Mr. Sarandos and Netflix’s other co-chief, Reed Hastings, have been unwavering in their support of Mr. Chappelle, who signed a lucrative multiyear deal with the company in 2016 and has won Emmys and Grammys for his Netflix work. In a note this week, Mr. Sarandos countered the arguments of Netflix staff members who had suggested that Mr. Chappelle’s special, “The Closer,” could lead to violence against transgender people, writing that he had the “strong belief that content on-screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”
Mr. Sarandos, who joined Netflix two decades ago and became its co-chief executive last year, also said that the company would go to great lengths to “ensure marginalized communities aren’t defined by a single story.” He cited inclusive Netflix programs like “Sex Education” and “Orange Is the New Black” as well as Ms. Gadsby’s specials, which also include “Douglas,” released in 2020.
In her social media post on Friday, Ms. Gadsby, who is a lesbian, objected to the executive’s references to her in his defense of the company and Mr. Chappelle’s special.
“Hey Ted Sarandos!” Ms. Gadsby wrote. “Just a quick note to let you know that I would prefer if you didn’t drag my name into your mess. Now I have to deal with even more of the hate and anger that Dave Chappelle’s fans like to unleash on me every time Dave gets 20 million dollars to process his emotionally stunted partial world view.”
She continued: “You didn’t pay me nearly enough to deal with the real world consequences of the hate speech dog whistling you refuse to acknowledge, Ted.”
Netflix declined to comment on Ms. Gadsby’s remarks.
At a virtual company meeting that started at 10 a.m. Pacific time on Friday, Mr. Sarandos replied to a series of tough questions from employees, who asked about Mr. Chappelle’s special and how the company had responded to criticisms of it, according to three people with knowledge of the gathering. The event became emotional when several employees were persistent in their questioning of Mr. Sarandos and his support for someone who they feel engages in hate speech, the people said.
After the meeting, Netflix said in a statement that an employee had been fired for sharing internal documents pertaining to Mr. Chappelle with the press.
“We have let go of an employee for sharing confidential, commercially sensitive information outside the company,” the statement said. “We understand this employee may have been motivated by disappointment and hurt with Netflix, but maintaining a culture of trust and transparency is core to our company.”
The documents included private financial information regarding Mr. Chappelle’s Netflix specials that were published this week by Bloomberg, according to a person with knowledge of the termination. The documents included the costs for the specials — $24.1 million for “The Closer” and $23.6 million for Mr. Chappelle’s previous special, “Sticks & Stones” — as well an internal metric that determines the value of the specials relative to their budgets.
Such data is available to Netflix staff but rarely made public. The appearance of the statistics in a published article is a further sign of how deep the schism is between some Netflix employees and company leadership.
Several organizations, including GLAAD, which monitors the news media and entertainment companies for bias against the L.G.B.T.Q. community, have criticized Mr. Chappelle’s special as transphobic. A group of Netflix workers has planned a walkout for next week in protest.
Nicole Sperling contributed reporting.