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The controversy stems from Dave Chappell’s comedy special, The Closer, which came to the streaming giant earlier this month. In it, Chappelle says he’s “Team TERF”, voiced support for JK Rowling, and stated, “Gender is a fact”. He also talks about his friendship and support of a trans comedian who later died by suicide.
Yesterday, trans employees and allies at Netflix took part in a walkout of the company’s LA HQ. At the same time, a ‘Stand Up in Solidarity’ rally was organized by trans activist Ashlee Marie Preston.
That video was shared by Elliot Page, who came out as trans in 2019 and stars in Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy.
“I stand with the trans, nonbinary, and BIPOC employees at Netflix fighting for more and better trans stories and a more inclusive workplace #NetflixWalkout” said Page.
— Elliot Page (@TheElliotPage) October 20, 2021
Schitt’s Creek creator Levy signed a major deal with Netflix in recent weeks to create original TV and films for the streamer. He issued a statement saying, “I stand with every employee at Netflix using their voice to ensure a safe and supportive work environment. I’ve seen first-hand how vital television can be when it comes to influencing the cultural conversation. That impact is real and works both ways: positively AND negatively.
“Transphobia is unacceptable and harmful. That isn’t a debate.”
— dan levy (@danjlevy) October 20, 2021
Also voicing support was trans movie director Lilly Wachowski.
#NetflixWalkout 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! ⚡️🎸⚡️
— Lilly Wachowski (@lilly_wachowski) October 20, 2021
The walkout was also supported by the streamer’s own LGBTQ hub, Most.
brb walking out
— Most (@Most) October 20, 2021
Yesterday’s walkout came not only in reaction to the Chappelle show but also how Netflix has subsequently handled the fallout. It suspended one member of staff who publicly criticized The Closer, saying the individual tried—along with two others—to gatecrash a meeting of executives they had not been invited to. All three subsequently had their suspensions lifted.
However, a non-binary member of staff, B. Pagels-Minor, was later fired after they allegedly leaked viewing figures for The Closer to the press.
Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, in a memo to staff about the show after it premiered, defended it, saying, “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.) … While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”
He later backtracked on this, telling Variety on Monday, “Obviously, I screwed up that internal communication. I did that, and I screwed it up in two ways. First and foremost, I should have led with a lot more humanity. Meaning, I had a group of employees who were definitely feeling pain and hurt from a decision we made … Of course, storytelling has real impact in the real world.”
Yesterday, ahead of the walkout, a Netflix spokesperson issued a further statement saying, “We value our trans colleagues and allies, and understand the deep hurt that’s been caused. 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.”
Several hundred people attended yesterday’s walkout and rally. It’s unclear how many were Netflix employees as many – no doubt fearing potential career impact – declined to speak to the press.
A set of demands has been issued by trans employees, calling on Netflix to do more to develop trans and non-binary talent, and to add a warning to content that it contains transphobia, among other actions.
The rally was met by a counter-protest of Dave Chappelle fans and those advocating for free speech. Variety notes there was also a small minority of this group shouting anti-trans slogans.