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Netflix strikes softer tone ahead of worker walkout over Dave Chappelle's anti-trans comments

Co-CEO Ted Sarandos says he "screwed up" in his defense of the comedian's special, while Netflix says the company values "our trans colleagues and allies."

A shot of Netflix's Singapore office, with a large Netflix logo in the foreground.

Netflix is under fire from the outside and the inside.

Netflix

Netflix, in the last 24 hours, struck a more sympathetic tone in the ongoing backlash over comments in Dave Chappelle's comedy special criticized as transphobic. The softened stance came ahead of a planned employee walkout on Wednesday.

The company values "our trans colleagues and allies" and understands the "deep hurt that's been caused," a Netflix spokeswoman said in a statement Wednesday. "We respect the decision of any employee who chooses to walk out, and recognize we have much more work to do both within Netflix and in our content." 

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Late Tuesday, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos told The Wall Street Journal he "screwed up" in his handling of employee responses to The Closer, Dave Chappelle's latest stand-up comedy special on the service. 

"What I should have led with in those emails was humanity," Sarandos said. "I should have recognized the fact that a group of our employees was really hurting."

Sarandos also noted in the interview that his previous comments about content not causing real-world harm were in error. "To be clear, storytelling has an impact in the real world… sometimes quite negative," he said.

Netflix released its latest stand-up special from Chappelle in early October. Often a lightning-rod comedian, Chappelle touches on past LGBTQ-community criticism of him and delivers jokes ridiculing transgender people -- comments that advocacy groups like GLAAD and the National Black Justice Coalition have said epitomize the kind of rhetoric that incites hate and violence. 

With trans advocates and Netflix employees calling on the service to take the special down, Sarandos previously committed to keeping it up. He also had defended the comedy special from criticism and downplayed concerns over the danger of the jokes to trans people.

"Content on the screen doesn't directly translate to real world harm," he wrote in an email obtained by Variety. He went on to argue that people can watch "shocking stand-up comedy" without being incited to hurt others.

Some workers who protested the company's response at a meeting were suspended -- and subsequently reinstated. Last week, Netflix fired an employee for allegedly sharing details about The Closer's financial value with Bloomberg. The fired worker was reportedly also an helping organize the walkout, according to a report by The Verge.