Trans Employees, Allies at Netflix Plan Walkout After CEO Defends Jokes in Chappelle Comedy Special
20:17 GMT 14.10.2021 (Updated: 13:25 GMT 06.08.2022)
In the latest act of the debate over jokes made at the expense of transgender people in American comedian Dave Chappelle’s latest standup show, trans employees and their supportive coworkers at Netflix have called for a walkout after the media company’s CEO parried claims the routine “translate[s] into real-world harm.”
In Chappelle’s latest and final episode for a trilogy of comedy specials he agreed to do for Netflix, he doubles down on the anti-LGBTQ comments made in the previous two episodes
that provoked outcry by sexual and gender minorities. “The Closer” was released on October 5 and has provoked even greater outcry, prompting calls for Netflix to take down the special and even for the video streaming service to be boycotted.
The hourlong special is mostly filled with Chappelle’s signature storytelling approach as he drops amusing anecdotes about encounters with people of various stripes, each of which proves some kind of point he is trying to make. While much of the show is focused on LGBTQ people, much that is about them is also told in this narrative style.
However, there is also a period of several minutes where he skips the anecdotes and speaks straightforwardly, expressing his sympathy for British author JK Rowling
and declaring himself to be a member of “Team TERF,” or trans-exclusionary radical feminists, an acronym used to describe anti-trans figures by activists who believe trans rights should be a part of the feminist movement.
Chappelle also discusses a friend of his, a trans woman and fellow comedian whose career he helped boost but who later committed suicide after suffering a torrent of online abuse for defending Chappelle after his first episode in the trilogy, “Sticks & Stones,” was released in 2017.
After the special aired, LGBTQ rights groups and trans employees of the company spoke out. GLAAD, which was formed in the 1980s to combat negative LGBTQ representation in film and media, said in a statement
that the comedian’s brand “has become synonymous with ridiculing trans people and other marginalized communities. Negative reviews and viewers loudly condemning his latest special is a message to the industry that audiences don't support platforming anti-LGBTQ diatribes. We agree.”
One Netflix employee, a trans woman named Terra Field, wrote a long thread
on Twitter explaining the difference between being offended by something, as was being said about critics of Chappelle’s routine, and the material harm caused to trans people by the stereotypes his routine plays off of. The thread concludes with a short bio on each of the 39 trans women murdered
in the US in 2021, noting each of them was “not offended.”
On Monday, The Verge reported
that Field, along with two other trans Netflix employees, had been suspended by the company. However, Netflix told the tech outlet that it was “absolutely untrue” that she had been suspended for tweeting about the show, adding that “our employees are encouraged to disagree openly and we support their right to do so.” Instead, they said the three had attempted to attend a director-level meeting they hadn’t been invited to.
In an internal email sent prior to the suspensions, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos rejected calls to remove “The Closer” or that it had “crossed the line,” and told employees that the company’s commitment to inclusion was demonstrated by it running titles such as “Sex Education” and “Disclosure,”
a documentary about the damage caused by negative representation of trans people in Hollywood over the years.
“I’ve said it before and I will say it again: You can’t buy carbon offsets for bigotry,” Field tweeted in response to Sarandos’ comments. “There is no cap and trade for hatred. You cannot trash our community one moment and then complain when we don’t thank you for the scraps you give us.”
Trans Workers Fight Back
Field was reinstated on Tuesday. However, after Sarandos doubled down on the harmlessness of Chappelle’s jokes, the company’s wider community of trans employees and their supportive coworkers are now calling for a wider protest.
“With ‘The Closer,’ we understand that the concern is not about offensive-to-some content but titles which could increase real world harm (such as further marginalizing already marginalized groups, hate, violence etc,)" Sarandos told Variety
in a Wednesday interview.
"Last year, we heard similar concerns about '365 Days' and violence against women. While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm,” he added.
Out Magazine, a cultural publication for LGBTQ people, responded to Sarandos’ comments by tweeting a short clip from “Disclosure” in which writer and actress Jen Richards explains the direct link between violence against trans women committed by men and how trans women are represented in film.
On Thursday, the Los Angeles Times
reported, after viewing discussion in a company Slack chat shown to them by several employees, that a mass walkout was being planned for October 20.
“I encourage all [members of] Trans* and allies not to work for Netflix that day,” read a message viewed by the Times, referring to the company’s transgender resource group “Trans*,” which includes at least 800 people. The company employs roughly 12,000 workers.
“Between the numerous emails and non-answers that have been given, we have been told explicitly that we somehow cannot understand the nuance of certain content. I don’t know about you, but asking for us to show the whole story and not just the pieces that harm trans and [LGBTQ+] people is not an unreasonable ask,” the statement continued. “So, I encourage us all to state clearly that we, as Netflix employees, are stunning not simply when we are doing the work that our roles demand of us but also when we challenge the very principles of our company.”
However, the Times notes that the protest isn’t aimed at getting “The Closer'' removed from Netflix. Instead, they want the media giant to commit to increasing the amount of LGBTQ content on its video streaming platform.