Netflix workers stage walkout over transphobic jokes by Dave Chappelle
The walkout, which drew dozens of protesters to the sidewalk in front of Netflix’s Los Angeles offices and an unknown number to its San Francisco area headquarters, adds to the firestorm Netflix has found itself in since premiering the show, The Closer, two weeks ago. Faced with an employee mini-uprising over the comedy special, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos initially defended it, saying it wouldn’t cause harm. But later, under pressure, he softened his stance in an interview with Variety, expressing regret over the language he had used while arguing that the show isn’t “hate speech” because it doesn’t call for “physical harm.”
At the rally, participants chanted “Trans lives matter” and “What do we want? Accountability. When do we want it? Now!”
Terra Field, a Netflix software engineer, recently wrote in a blog post that the protest has a broader mission than just speaking out against Chappelle’s special. The Closer is just a “symptom,” Field said, of the entertainment industry and Netflix’s lack of commitment to telling the stories of marginalized communities respectfully, and a society that allows trans hate to exist.
Field, whom Netflix had previously suspended for speaking out during an internal meeting about The Closer, denied asking Netflix to remove Chappelle’s show.
A Netflix employee group, Trans* Employee Resource Group and its supporters, has published a list of demands aimed at Netflix. It asks for a fund that would invest in transgender creators; a hiring initiative that would recruit trans, nonbinary, and ethnically diverse leadership; and disclaimers on shows that feature transphobic or hateful content.
The rally garnered the support and participation, virtually, of media personalities and prominent activists like Jonathan Van Ness, Angelica Ross, and Kate Bornstein.
Meanwhile, counterprotesters also attended the rally in support of Chappelle, holding signs saying, “Free speech is a right” and “Truth is not transphobic.” They argue that the uproar over The Closer is intended to unfairly cancel Chappelle, a common refrain these days in the culture wars.
Ashlee Marie Preston, who helped organize today’s rally, called Stand-Up in Solidarity, responded to that sentiment by tweeting, “Dave Chappelle was not ‘canceled.’ He’s been invited to the table for transformative dialogue but won’t show up. That’s not ‘cancel culture,’ but an avoidance of accountability. He’s no victim. The man is worth $50M. Unlike many trans people his comedy stigmatizes—he’ll live.”
Chappelle is no stranger to controversy. Previously he has joked about the sexual abuse victims of producer R. Kelly, who was recently convicted of child sexual exploitation and kidnapping, among other offenses. In the recent Netflix special, Chappelle identified himself as “team TERF” —“trans-exclusionary radical feminist,” and also told a story about a lesbian while calling her a “man.”
In a statement today, Netflix said, “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.”
It was unclear how many employees participated in the walkout.
Days after The Closer debuted, several Netflix employees chimed in during a virtual meeting of high-ranking staff about their concerns with the show. While Field was suspended, B. Pagels-Minor, another employee, was fired a few days later, accused by Netflix of leaking internal data to the media. Pagels-Minor said that transgender employees at Netflix have been advocating for better representation in shows since the 2018 Netflix film Girl, which cast a cisgender actor, Victor Polster, in a transgender role. That movie, the employees complained, also featured scenes that focused heavily on genital areas and trans trauma.
While traveling to the rally, Pagels-Minor voiced surprise at the support on social media for the walkout, with actors like Elliot Page tweeting in solidarity. Pagels-Minor said that Sarandos’s apology fell flat: “First, no one internally is trying to take down the special. Second, he alluded to the fact that Netflix employees don’t know how good they have it.” Pagels-Minor added, “He missed the point.”
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