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Dave Chappelle and the Netflix walkout

Dave Chapelle

Attack on the trans community sparks controversy

By Isabell Rivera

Comedian Dave Chappelle recently found himself in hot water, due to his new-stand-up special that aired on Netflix. In his comedy special “The Closer,” Chapelle made a few insensitive jokes about the LGBTQ community—especially about transgender people—that didn’t sit well with many, including at least three transgender employees working at Netflix.

Shortly after employees stormed a Netflix meeting they weren’t invited to, they were suspended of their duties.

“I work at @netflix,” Netflix software engineer Terra Field, one of the transgender employees who  interrupted the meeting tweeted: “Yesterday we launched another Chappelle special where he attacks the trans community, and the very validity of transness – all while trying to pit us against other marginalized groups. You’re going to hear a lot of talk about ‘offense.’ We are not offended.”

According to The Verge, Field’s tweet went viral causing debates about free speech and mentioning #CancelCulture.

“It is absolutely untrue to say that we have suspended any employee for tweeting about this show,” a Netflix spokesperson told The Verge in an email. “Our employees are encouraged to disagree openly and we support their right to do so.”

In disappointment with how Netflix was handling their concerns, Netflix’s Trans Employee Resource Group took to the streets of Hollywood protesting Dave Chappelle and Netflix by organizing a walkout that took place Oct. 20.

According to a Bloomberg report released on Oct. 13, Netflix’s employees already raised concerns prior to the release of “The Closer,” saying that jokes about transgender people are “potentially inflammatory and damaging.” Netflix leaders, including co-CEO Ted Sarandos and Media Executive Bela Bajaria, reportedly showed support for Chappelle and didn’t see any “hate speech” with his stand-up special.

A transgender employee, identified as B. Pagels-Minor, was fired by Netflix for allegedly  “sharing confidential information externally from their Netflix email on several occasions,” The New York Times said in a statement.

The legal team of Pagels-Minor denies these allegations.

According to The Verge, a current Netflix employee said in an open Q&A document: “We repeatedly provide a platform for content that is harmful to the trans community. These decisions have a material impact on our business, including harm to our current employees and talent declining to work with us. What is our plan on how we are going to repair this situation in particular?”

Reed Hastings, a co-CEO of Netflix, said the streaming service will “continue to work with Dave Chappelle in the future,” he said on a private message board. “We see him as a unique voice, but can understand if you or others never want to watch his shows,” Bloomberg News reported.

“It doesn’t feel good to have been working at the company that put that out there,” Field wrote in a blog post for Medium about “The Closer.” “Especially when we’ve spent years building out the company’s policies and benefits so that it would be a great place for trans people to work.”

The staged Netflix walkout was focused on nonbinary and transgender employees working for the company, along with their supporters.

“Our leadership has shown us that they do not uphold the values for which we are held,” a Netflix’s transgender employee and leader of the group said in a public Slack channel.

According to a press release obtained by The Verge, Netflix’s trans employees demanded the company to focus on three areas: employee relations and safety; harm reduction; and content investment. In other words, they want Netflix to invest in more nonbinary and trans content, as well as more say from underrepresented communities regarding “sensitive and potentially harmful content,” Netflix puts out. In addition, Netflix’s Trans* Employee Resource Group would like to see more trans people in leadership at the company, “especially BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color].”

However, the group is not asking to remove “The Closer” from the streaming service, they simply want Netflix to “acknowledge the harm and Netflix’s responsibility for this harm from transphobic content, and in particular harm to the Black trans community,” and for the company to add warning disclaimers indicating harmful content.

Although Netflix has not given any comment to the demands yet, the company prides itself on its company culture and encourages open communication from its employees, and said to be more committed to listening to sensitive issues like these in the future.

“We value our trans colleagues and allies, and understand the deep hurt that’s been caused,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement. “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.”

According to The Verge, Netflix’s Trans* Employee Resource Group has been meeting up with the company’s executives for years to discuss harmful content towards the trans community and the impact it has on trans people working for the company, a current employee said.

“We aim to use this moment to shift the social ecology around what Netflix leadership deems ethical entertainment while establishing policies and guidelines that protect employees and consumers, alike,” #NetflixWalkout organizer Ashlee Marie Preston, wrote on her Instagram.

At the Netflix walkout, protestors held signs that read, “Team Trans” and “Trans Lives Matter,” as they were shouting, “What do we want? Accountability,” “When do we want it? Now.”

At the protest, Preston introduced herself in a PSA video and outlined the rally agenda.

“I’ve invited Dave Chappelle to have a transformative dialogue with us…and he has made it clear that it is not of interest to him,” Preston said. “Just to be clear, this isn’t cancel culture, but an avoidance of accountability.”

Chapelle took his unapologetic response, regarding his special, to Instagram.

“I said what I said, and boy, I heard what you said,” Chappelle said in a video. “My God, how could I not? You said you want a safe working environment at Netflix. It seems like I’m the only one that can’t go to the office anymore.”

Chappelle has gained a reputation to be the leading voice on race issues, but this is not the first time Chappelle’s stand-up caused some controversy. His previous show “Sticks & Stones,” released by Netflix resulted in outrage by Black @Netflix and Trans* employee groups, who met with Sarandos, Bajaria, and then-Vice President of Original Content Cindy Holland, among other company leaders to raise awareness and talk about their concerns.

Chappelle continued in his Instagram video that he would meet with the particular Netflix employees under three conditions.

“First of all, you cannot come if you have not watched my special from beginning to end. You must come to a place of my choosing, at a time of my choosing. And thirdly, you must admit that Hannah Gadsby is not funny.” Referring to Australian comedian, Gadsby who is a queer woman.

Chappelle added, “everyone I know from that community has been nothing but loving and supportive. So I don’t know what this nonsense is about.”