Netflix Isn’t Backing Down on Dave Chappelle and Neither Are Its Workers

“Truly dystopian that my first time going to my office will be in order to walk out of it.”
October 20, 2021, 6:03pm
People rally in support of the Netflix transgender employee walkout in Los Angeles, California on October 20, 2021.
People rally in support of the Netflix transgender employee walkout in Los Angeles, California on October 20, 2021. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP via Getty Images)

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Two weeks after the release of Dave Chapelle’s latest stand-up special for Netflix, employees at the streaming site are still frustrated by how it has handled Chappelle’s taste for transphobic jokes—and what they say is a broader lack of support for trans people and storytelling. 

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Employees have pledged to walk out of work on Wednesday, including the LGBTQ+ storytelling team and its head of queer editorial.

“Truly dystopian that my first time going to my office will be in order to walk out of it,” Gabrielle Korn tweeted earlier this week. On Wednesday, Korn added, “Netflix needs better trans representation at every level, in front of the camera and behind it, within the halls of our offices, in leadership positions and creative positions. We won't stop fighting for it until we get there.”

“Brb walking out,” the LGTBQ+ storytelling team tweeted. 

To support the walkout, organizer Ashlee Marie Preston has put together a rally in Los Angeles. The location of the rally had to be moved from a previous spot due to “overwhelming response,” Preston said on social media. Celebrities and Netflix talent like Jameela Jamil, Jonathan Van Ness, Angelica Ross, and Colton Haynes will participate in an accompanying PSA. Billy Eichner has also said that he supports the walkout, while comedian Hannah Gadsby—whose own Netflix special went massively viral—has slammed the streamer as an “amoral algorithm cult.”

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Since Chappelle’s 2019 Netflix special, “Sticks & Stones,” also featured transphobic jokes, Netflix employees had reportedly hoped that their employer would start to tread more carefully when it came to “The Closer,” the 2021 Chappelle special. But “The Closer” focused heavily on transphobic content, including jokes about pronouns and trans people’s genitalia. 

“Dave is not, and has never been, the cause of this problem—he is a symptom of it,” Terra Field, a Netflix staffer who publicly criticized her employer, wrote in a blog post Tuesday. “That Dave believes the things he says and can say them with relative impunity is a result of the culture we live in: a culture that marginalizes and devalues trans people.”

In an apparent dig at Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s CEO, Field added, “He contributes to that culture in a very real way, but at least he isn’t out there bragging about how many LGBTQ+ allyship awards he has won while he is doing it.”

Field took pains to stress that the concern wasn’t over offensiveness, but the potential impact of Chappelle’s remarks. At least 40 trans or gender non-conforming people have been violently killed so far in 2021, according to a tally by the Human Rights Campaign, while conservative politicians across the country have launched numerous attacks on the rights of trans and intersex children to play sports and obtain gender-affirming healthcare. 

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Field was among the three employees who were briefly suspended for crashing a meeting involving top Netflix executives, although the three were later reinstated. Netflix concluded  that Field had not joined the meeting with any “ill intent,” according to a screenshot Field shared on Twitter

But, days later, Netflix fired a trans employee who was leading walkout plans, the Verge reported last week. The employee, B. Pagels-Minor, was fired over suspicions that they had leaked metrics about the Chappelle special to the press. (Bloomberg reported that both “The Closer” and “Sticks & Stones” cost the company more value than they generated, by some of Netflix’s own metrics.) 

“I collected the data, but I did not leak the data,” Pagels-Minor told NPR. The data, they said, was shared internally among coworkers and that Netflix didn’t perform an investigation.

A Netflix spokesperson told NPR in a statement that “any further investigation” was “impossible” because Pagels-Minor had wiped their electronic devices. 

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On Tuesday evening, Sarandos was in damage control mode, walking back a memo he’d written in response to the Chappelle outcry that claimed “content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.” In a Wall Street Journal interview, Sarandos said that remark was an oversimplification.

“What I should have led with in those emails was humanity,” Sarandos said. “I should have recognized the fact that a group of our employees was really hurting.”

Netflix has said that it supports employees who choose to walk out.

Ahead of the walkout, the trans employee resource group circulated a list of demands, including requests that the streamer develop a fund to develop trans and non-binary talent, hire trans and non-binary executives, and add disclaimers to transphobic content. 

“When a company like Netflix says something like, ‘We do not believe this content is harmful to the transgender community,’ you can be virtually certain that not a single trans person was involved in that decision,” Field wrote in her blog post.