Netflix’s Ted Sarandos Reaffirms Support for Chappelle Special as Trans Staffers, Allies Plan Walkout

At least 1,000 Netflix employees are expected to participate in a virtual walkout in protest of the Netflix co-CEO's comments about Dave Chappelle's special.

At least one thousand Netflix employees are expected to participate in a virtual walkout to protest Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos’ recent comments in support of Dave Chappelle’s latest special, The Closer, according to a current staffer who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter.

As first reported by The Vergetrans staffers and allies at Netflix are planning to stage the virtual walkout next Wednesday, Oct. 20, after Sarandos sent two memos to staff — one on Oct. 8 and another to all Netflix staffers on Monday — stating that the company would not be removing the special, in which Chappelle mocks gender identities and defends J.K. Rowling’s transphobic remarks, among other comments.

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In the second memo, sent on Monday, Sarandos argued that “content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm,” according to a copy reviewed by THR.

“The strongest evidence to support this is that violence on screens has grown hugely over the last thirty years, especially with first party shooter games, and yet violent crime has fallen significantly in many countries,” Sarandos wrote in the memo, which was first reported by Variety. “Adults can watch violence, assault and abuse — or enjoy shocking stand-up comedy — without it causing them to harm others.”

The current Netflix staffer said Sarandos’ memos were largely the impetus behind the walkout, organized by the Trans* employee resource group at the streamer but supported by several allies at the company. During the walkout, participating staffers will not do any work for the streamer and instead focus on donating to charities and encouraging others to engage in content that does support the trans community, according to the staffer.

“The memo was very disrespectful,” the staffer, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the subject, said. “It didn’t invite a robust conversation about this hard topic, and that’s normally how things go.”

In a statement sent to THR earlier on Wednesday, a Netflix spokesperson said the company supported “artistic expression” for creators while also encouraging “employees to disagree openly.”

“Dave Chappelle’s specials are consistently the most-watched comedy specials on Netflix, and have earned many awards, including both an Emmy and a Grammy for Sticks and Stones,” the spokesperson said. “We support artistic expression for our creators. We also encourage our employees to disagree openly.”

Netflix declined to share viewership data for The Closer.

Earlier this week, three Netflix staffers were suspended for attending an executive meeting to speak out against Chappelle’s special. The trio, which included a Netflix engineer who is trans, were later reinstated after public backlash to Netflix’s response.

GLAAD, the LGBTQ+ advocacy group, released a statement Wednesday evening in response to the Sarandos memo and in particular his “real-world harm” comment. “GLAAD was founded 36 years ago because media representation has consequences for LGBTQ people. Authentic media stories about LGBTQ lives have been cited as directly responsible for increasing public support for issues like marriage equality.”

The statement continued, “But film and TV have also been filled with stereotypes and misinformation about us for decades, leading to real-world harm, especially for trans people and LGBTQ people of color. Ironically, the documentary Disclosure on Netflix demonstrates this quite clearly.”

Oct. 13, 6:00 p.m. Updated with comments from Netflix employee and Ted Sarandos’ second memo to staff.

Oct. 13, 11:50 p.m. Updated with statement from GLAAD.