Netflix workers stage walk-out over Dave Chappelle's transgender comments

Netflix employees are staging a walk-out on Wednesday in an unprecedented show of defiance to protest the streaming platform's decision to release comedian Dave Chappelle's controversial new comedy special, which they say ridicules trans people.

Group of employees planning to present CEO Ted Sarandos with 'list of asks'

Netflix employees stage walkout over Dave Chapelle comedy special

2 months ago
Duration 1:55
Netflix employees protested outside the company's headquarters over the handling of reaction to Dave Chappelle's latest comedy special, The Closer, which is riddled with jokes many consider transphobic. Staff have outlined changes they want to see the company make on trans issues, and its defence of Chappelle's perceived transphobic content. 1:55

Netflix employees are staging a walk-out on Wednesday in an unprecedented show of defiance to protest the streaming giant's decision to release comedian Dave Chappelle's controversial new comedy special, which they say ridicules trans people.

A group of employees calling itself Team Trans* has scheduled a rally outside Netflix Inc.'s 13-storey Sunset Boulevard offices in Los Angeles, where activists, public figures and other supporters plan to present the company's CEO and chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, with a "list of asks."

"We shouldn't have to show up quarterly/annually to push back against harmful content that negatively impacts vulnerable communities," organizer Ashlee Marie Preston wrote in a social media post.

"Instead, we aim to use this moment to shift the social ecology around what Netflix leadership deems ethical entertainment."

While such demonstrations have become common in Silicon Valley, where employees of Facebook and Google have engaged in open protests to draw attention to corporate policies, this is believed to be a first for the pioneer streaming video company.

Supporters and counter protesters attend a rally in front of Netflix's Los Angeles offices Wednesday as a group of Netflix employees staged a walkout to protest the streaming platform's recent comedy special from Dave Chappelle, which they say ridicules trans people. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

CEO's memo stokes backlash

Even as it posted record subscriber numbers Tuesday, propelled by the global popularity of South Korean thriller series Squid Game, Netflix faces internal dissent over its handling of Chappelle's stand-up show The Closer.

Sarandos stoked further backlash with an Oct. 11 staff memo in which he acknowledged Chappelle's provocative language but said it didn't cross the line into inciting violence.

"We have a strong belief that content on screen doesn't translate to real-world harm," the memo said. 

Hours before the walk-out on Wednesday morning, 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."

LISTEN | The controversy surrounding Dave Chappelle's Netflix special:

Pop culture columnist Rad Simonpillai explains why the latest controversy surrounding comedian Dave Chappelle has led to people calling on Netflix to remove his latest specia. 8:03

It is not the first time Netflix has drawn fire for boundary-pushing content. The coming-of-age story Cuties was accused of hypersexualizing young girls, and the teen suicide drama 13 Reasons Why was blamed for a rise in teen suicides.

The controversy of The Closer is playing out against the backdrop of a company-wide diversity effort that began in 2018, after Netflix's former head of communications was fired for using a racial epithet in company meetings while discussing offensive language in comedy.

The stated goal, according to an inclusion report published in January, is to create a workplace where employees "feel like they have a home here. That they belong."

"It doesn't feel good to have been working at the company that put that out there," Terra Field, a software engineer at Netflix, wrote in a Medium post. "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."

Dave Chappelle, seen at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2018, is under fire for comments he made about trans people in his recent Netflix comedy special, The Closer. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Celebrities express support for walk-out

A number of high-profile celebrities expressed their support for the walk-out on social media. The Team Trans* YouTube account released a video with public figures like Jonathan Van Ness, Sara Ramírez and Colton Haynes offering messages of solidarity.

Van Ness, who stars on the successful Netflix reality TV series Queer Eye and uses any pronouns, said in the video that they are grateful to trans, nonbinary and intersex Netflix employees working "to create a world that is more equitable and fair and to ultimately achieve LGBTQ liberation."

WATCH Celebrities, public figures express support for Netflix walk-out:

Elliott Page, the Canadian star of the Netflix show The Umbrella Academy, linked to the video and wrote, "I stand with the trans, nonbinary, and BIPOC employees at Netflix fighting for more and better trans stories and a more inclusive workplace."

On Twitter, Schitt's Creek creator and star Dan Levy also released a statement. "I stand with every employee at Netflix using their voice to ensure a safe and supportive work environment."

"If you're not standing up for trans lives, you need to take a good look at who you ARE standing with. Good luck today everybody!" tweeted Lilly Wachowski, co-director of The Matrix and co-creator of the Netflix series Sense8.


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