Citing the current Hollywood writers strike, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos will not be attending next week’s PEN America Gala in Manhattan, when he was to accept a Business Visionary Award. PEN America will not be presenting the award this year, saying the honor is premised upon the recipient accepting in person.
The Gala, to be held May 18 at the American Museum of Natural History, is one of the year’s literary highlights and will feature the presentation of several awards, including one to “Saturday Night Live” creator Lorne Michaels for Literary Service.
“Given the threat to disrupt this wonderful evening, I thought it was best to pull out so as not to distract from the important work that PEN America does for writers and journalists, as well as the celebration of my friend and personal hero Lorne Michaels,” Sarandos said in a statement released Wednesday by Netflix. “I hope the evening is a great success.”
A PEN spokesperson said that no one this year will be given the Business Visionary Award, which in 2022 was won by Audible founder Don Katz. A Netflix spokesperson said there would be no comment beyond Sarandos’ statement.
Michaels, whose show has been off the air since the strike began May 2, is still planning to attend, according to PEN. The head writer at SNL, Writers Guild member Colin Jost, will be serving as emcee.
In a statement Wednesday, PEN America praised Sarandos’ “singular work translating literature to artful presentation on screen and his stalwart defense of free expression and satire,” and added that as “a writers organization, we have been following recent events closely and understand his decision.
“Our Gala program, with honorees including Saturday Night Live‘s Lorne Michaels and emcee Colin Jost, will center on the escalating campaign of book bans in this country, tightening constraints on satire and comedy, and support of threatened writers worldwide. We look forward to a moving and inspiring event that will fuel our fervent work on behalf of free speech.”
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Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos has come under fire after he refused to accept the PEN America Center’s ‘Business Visionary Award’.
Sarandos cited the 2007-2008 Hollywood Writers Guild strike, during which he was reportedly “on the opposite side”, as the reason why he could not accept the award. In a statement issued on Sunday, he said that he regretted the “unfortunate discord” between Netflix and creative talent, and called for “greater equity and parity in the entertainment industry”.
The Writers Guild strike, which lasted through to 2008, started in November 2007. Writers went on strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), who refused to negotiate better wages and health benefits for the writers. Sarandos was the Chief Content Officer at Netflix during the dispute, and was at the forefront of those trying to break the stalemate.
The reaction to Sarandos’ refusal has been mixed. PEN America issued a statement saying that they appreciated Sarandos’ “thoughtful gesture” in declining their award, but also raised criticisms over both his role in the 2007-2008 strike and the current working conditions of Netflix’s creative talent.
On the other hand, some industry analysts praised Sarandos for his stance, highlighting the fact that his decision was further evidence of his commitment to improving fairness and parity in the industry.
It is clear that Sarandos’ refusal of the PEN America Center’s award has created mixed emotions in the industry. With Netflix’s deep pocket, ever-growing production slate, and wealth of talent, it is tempting to forget the 2007-2008 Hollywood Writer’s Guild Strike. But as Sarandos’ statement suggests, the impact of this moment in history continues to live on.