Netflix employees staging walkout after CEO defends Dave Chappelle’s anti-trans comments

At least a thousand staffers are banding together over the controversy.
October 14, 2021 10:08 a.m. EST
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The echoes from Dave Chappelle’s controversial Netflix special, The Closer, continue to be heard around the internet, and now employees of the streaming service are banding together to address it.

On October 20, at least a thousand Netflix employees, including trans staffers and allies, are planning a virtual walkout. The organized protest sprung up after boss Ted Sarandos sent two memos to staff revealing the company isn’t taking down The Closer despite the fact that Chappelle mocks gender identities and calls himself a TERF, among other offensive comments.

In the first memo, the chief addressed top leadership, and in the second, which was sent on Monday this week, he addressed all staff. Variety saw a copy of the second memo and published parts of it this week.

“Content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm,” Sarandos argued.  

“The strongest evidence to support this is that violence on screens has grown hugely over the last thirty years, especially with first party shooter games, and yet violent crime has fallen significantly in many countries,” he continued. “Adults can watch violence, assault and abuse — or enjoy shocking stand-up comedy — without it causing them to harm others.”

In response to the memo, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) corrected Sarandos and his belief that such content doesn’t cause harm to others.

“GLAAD was founded 36 years ago because media representation has consequences for LGBTQ people. Authentic media stories about LGBTQ lives have been cited as directly responsible for increasing public support for issues like marriage equality,” the alliance said.

“But film and TV have also been filled with stereotypes and misinformation about us for decades, leading to real world harm, especially for trans people and LGBTQ people of colour. Ironically, the documentary Disclosure on Netflix demonstrates this quite clearly.”

According to The Verge, the walkout is being staged by the trans employee resource group at Netflix in response to that second memo, as well as the company’s initial response to suspend three employees, including one engineer who is trans, after they attended an executive meeting to speak out against the special. (The employees were later reinstated after public backlash.)

“Trans Lives Matter. Trans Rights Matter. And as an organization, Netflix has continually failed to show deep care in our mission to Entertain the World by repeatedly releasing content that harms the Trans community and continually failing to create content that represents and uplifts Trans content. We can and must do better!” wrote a leader of the trans ERG in an internal organizing message.

As part of the walkout, employees will not do any work for the day and instead focus their efforts on donating to charities and encouraging people to watch and support content that supports the trans community.

“The memo was very disrespectful,” a staffer told The Hollywood Reporter anonymously. “It didn’t invite a robust conversation about this hard topic, and that’s normally how things go.”

“Dave Chappelle’s specials are consistently the most-watched comedy specials on Netflix, and have earned many awards, including both an Emmy and a Grammy for Sticks and Stones,” a spokesperson said in a statement to THR earlier this week. “We support artistic expression for our creators. We also encourage our employees to disagree openly.”

At time of press, Netflix still hadn’t divulged viewing numbers for The Closer, which Chappelle has repeatedly said is his last special. While it’s also not clear how much the comedian was paid to do the special, other outlets have reported his previous projects with the streamer have included paydays of about $20 million each.

This isn’t the first time Chappelle has been criticized for his transphobic remarks. His previous Netflix specials also came under fire after he punched down with certain jokes, leading to the title of his fifth special, Sticks and Stones.

Days after The Closer dropped, Chappelle addressed the backlash while making an appearance at The Hollywood Bowl. “If this is what being cancelled is like, I love it,” he told the crowd. “F--- Twitter. F--- NBC News, ABC News, all these stupid-ass networks. I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to you. This is real life.”

“Dave Chappelle’s brand has become synonymous with ridiculing trans people and other marginalized communities,” GLAAD also said in a statement earlier this month. “Negative reviews and viewers loudly condemning his latest special is a message to the industry that audiences don’t support platforming anti-LGBTQ diatribes.”

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