Sarandos' 'The Closer' Apology Tour 'Misses the Point,' Fired Employee Says (Updated)

Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos
Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos. (Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix Co-CEO Ted Sarandos expressed regret for words he used to address staff last week, following the controversy created by comedian Dave Chappelle's latest standup special, The Closer

But a recently fired Netflix employee, who organized a Wednesday staff walkout in protest of the company's handling of the Chappelle matter, said Sarandos' mea culpa missed the mark. 

"Ted still misses the point, this isn’t about the special or taking it down. It’s about parity in content. All we asked for was more trans content, investment in trans talent, and promoting trans content," tweeted B. Pagels-Minor, a former Netflix senior product manager who was fired last week for allegedly leaking financial data about Netflix shows 

On Tuesday, as Netflix was delivering its buoyant third-quarter earnings report, Sarandos embarked on a kind of apology tour, delivering separate but barely distinguishable Q&As for Penske Media's veritable monopoly of Hollywood trade pubs (which includes Variety, Deadline and The Hollywood Reporter), as well as The Wall Street Journal

"Obviously, I screwed up that internal communication. I did that, and I screwed it up in two ways," Sarandos told Variety

"First and foremost, I should have led with a lot more humanity," Sarandos said in his Variety interview. "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," Sarandos added, walking back his earlier comment. "I reiterate that because it’s why I work here, it’s why we do what we do. 

Earlier, in leaked company memos, Sarandos said controversial jokes made by Chappelle in The Closer targeting the trans community don't cause "real world harm." The co-CEO's terminology did little to quell growing dissent within Netflix among LGBTQ staff members, one of whom was fired last week for allegedly releasing data to the press in an effort inspired by opposition to The Closer.

That employee, later identified as veteran Silicon Valley technologist and self-described "thought leader" Pagels-Minor, helped Wednesday's Netflix staff walkout at the company's Hollywood location. Participating staff members were met by what were reportedly dozens of LGBTQ-supporting protesters and Chappelle-backing counter-protesters on Vine Street, outside the Netflix Hollywood headquarters. 

Reuters captured video of the event below:

For his part, Pagels-Minor has conceded to having accessed the data in question, which shows Netflix paying over $20 million for recent Chappelle comedy specials, but getting back little economic value compared to other recent Netflix titles. Pagels-Minor, however, denies having leaked the data.

Before Wednesday's walkout, Netflix released this statement: “We value our trans colleagues and allies, and understand the deep hurt that’s been caused. 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.”

Daniel Frankel

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!