Netflix employees walk out in protest over Dave Chappelle comedy special
A group of Netflix employees staged a walkout Wednesday in protest of Dave Chappelle's controversial stand-up special The Closer, which many have criticized as transphobic and harmful to transgender people. The walkout was organized by a trans employee resource group at the streamer, which has reportedly demanded that Netflix adopt new measures to address transphobic content and invest in trans and non-binary creators.
The walkout represents the culmination of weeks of backlash to Chappelle's special, in which the comedian makes numerous mocking remarks about the LGBTQ community, and transgender people in particular.
"We value our trans colleagues and allies, and understand the deep hurt that's been caused," a Netflix spokesperson tells EW 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."
Netflix employees' anger over the special escalated after Ted Sarandos, the streamer's co-CEO, defended the special in two separate memos to staff.
"We don't allow titles on Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don't believe The Closer crosses that line," Sarandos wrote in part, adding that "content on screen doesn't directly translate to real-world harm."
Some of the company's employees, in short, disagree. Netflix software engineer Terra Field, who was one of three workers briefly suspended last week, wrote a blog post on Medium calling on the streamer to "stop pretending that transphobia in media has no effect on society."
"Closeted trans teens who might come across 'The Closer' should know that they are valid. That they are more than a joke," Field, who is transgender, wrote in the post. "It doesn't feel good to have been working at the company that put it out there. 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. A place can't be a great place to work if someone has to betray their community to do so."
On Tuesday, Sarandos told The Hollywood Reporter that he "screwed up" on the Chappelle memos, but added that his "stance hasn't changed" on the issue.
"I can tell you I screwed up those communications in two ways," Sarandos said. "One of them was, I should have first and foremost acknowledged in those emails that a group of our employees were in pain, and they were really feeling hurt from a business decision that we made. And I, instead of acknowledging that first, I went right into some rationales. And so first of all, I'd say those emails lacked humanity, in which I like to and I do generally communicate with our teams."
Last week Netflix also fired an employee for allegedly leaking internal information about The Closer, identified by The New York Times as B. Pagels-Minor, a former program manager at Netflix who is transgender, Black, and pregnant. Pagels-Minor, who "categorically" denied "leaking sensitive information to the press" through a lawyer, also confirmed that they were a leader of both the transgender and Black employee resource groups at Netflix and were one of the organizers of the walkout.
"The tone of [Netflix's] message was basically like: You employees can't possibly understand the nuance of comedy, and that's why you're upset," Pagels-Minor told the Times of Sarandos' memos. "That's not the point. It's not that we don't understand comedy. It's that this comedy has tones of hatred. And what are we going to do to mitigate that?"
According to The Verge, the trans employee research group's demands included calling on Netflix to "create a new fund to specifically develop trans and non-binary talent," "revise internal processes on commissioning and releasing potential harmful ("sensitive") content," "recruit trans people, especially BIPOC, for leadership roles in the company," and "add a disclaimer before transphobic titles that specifically flag transphobic language, misogyny, homophobia, hate speech, etc. as required." The demands did not include the removal of The Closer from Netflix.
A number of celebrities — including Jonathan Van Ness, Angelica Ross, Elliot Page, Jameela Jamil, Our Lady J, and Colton Haynes, several of whom have worked with Netflix — voiced support for the walkout on social media and in a video posted to YouTube titled "Stand Up in Solidarity With Team Trans* at Netflix!"
Activists also organized a rally near Netflix's Los Angeles headquarters to support the walkout, with plans to present Sarandos with "list of firm asks," according to a social media post by transgender activist Ashlee Marie Preston promoting the rally.
"We shouldn't have to show up quarterly/annually to push back against harmful content that negatively impacts vulnerable communities," Preston wrote on Instagram. "Instead, 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."