Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Netflix offices in Los Angeles to express support for a virtual walkout by transgender employees of the streaming service as anger swelled over a new Dave Chappelle comedy special that activists say is harmful to the transgender community.
The streaming giant has found itself embroiled in an intense and highly public controversy over Chappelle’s The Closer, in which the stand-up star insists ‘gender is a fact’ and accuses LGBTQ people of being ‘too sensitive.’
Trans employees and their supporters were further outraged last week when Netflix fired one of the leaders of the ‘trans employee resource group’ who participated in organizing Wednesday’s walkout.
The company said it dismissed the employee because it suspected the worker of leaking confidential information, including the $24.1million payment the company made to Chappelle to produce The Closer.
A spokesperson for the company announced on Friday: ‘We have let go of an employee for sharing confidential, commercially sensitive information outside the company.
People rally in support of the Netflix transgender employee walkout in Los Angeles on Wednesday
Netflix bosses braced for the employee walkout and rally in Los Angeles as anger swelled over a new Dave Chappelle comedy special that activists say is harmful to the transgender community
The streaming giant has found itself embroiled in an intense and highly public controversy over Chappelle’s The Closer, in which the stand-up star insists ‘gender is a fact’ and accuses LGBTQ people of being ‘too sensitive’
Protesters hold signs during a demonstration outside the Netflix offices in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles on Wednesday
A protester holds a sign that reads ‘Hate isn’t funny’ during a demonstration outside Netflix offices in Los Angeles on Wednesday
Netflix’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos (left), acknowledged that he ‘screwed up’ by writing memos that denied Chappelle’s comedy special, The Closer, was transphobic. But he has resisted demands by protest organizers to add a disclaimer to the special or to take it down from the service altogether. Chappelle is seen right in The Closer
‘We understand this employee may have been motivated by disappointment and hurt with Netflix, but maintaining a culture of trust and transparency is core to our company.’
The longtime employee was fired for sharing that Netflix spent $24.1 million on The Closer and $23.6 million on Chappelle’s 2019 special Sticks & Stones.
In comparison, the company spent $3.9 million for Bo Burnham’s critically acclaimed comedy special Inside and $21.4 million for Squid Game, which became Netflix’s biggest series launch.
Some LGBTQ Hollywood heavyweights on Wednesday weighed in on the controversy.
A protester holds up a sign that reads ‘Transphobia is not a joke’ at a rally near Netflix offices in Los Angeles on Wednesday
A pro-Chappelle protester holding a sign that reads ‘We live Dave’ argues with a demonstrator outside Netflix offices on Wednesday
Chappelle supporters (left) stage a counter-demonstration near the protest outside Netflix offices on Wednesday
Supporters of Chappelle are seen in a counter-demonstration outside Netflix offices in Los Angeles on Wednesday
A supporter of Chappelle is seen right holding a sign that reads ‘We like jokes’ near Netflix offices in Los Angeles on Wednesday
Pro-trans protesters try to rip away a pro-Chappelle sign from a counter-demonstrator outside Netflix offices in Los Angeles on Wednesday
Vito Gesualdi, who came to the rally to express his support for Chappelle, gestures during the demonstration in Los Angeles on Wednesday
Dave Briggs holds a placard that reads ‘Hateflix’ as he attends a rally in support of the Netflix transgender employee walkout
Writer-director Jill Soloway speaks during protests and demonstrations outside Netflix offices in Los Angeles on Wednesday
An activist covers the counter protesters’ placard during a rally in support of the Netflix transgender employee walkout
A small group of counter-demonstrators holding signs supporting Chappelle is seen in the above photo
Counter-demonstrators hold signs that read ‘Don’t cancel free speech’; ‘Learn to laugh at yourself’; ‘Free speech is a right’; and ‘Team TERF’. ‘TERF’, which is an acronym for ‘trans-exclusionary radical feminist,’ is a negative term which refers to a feminist who excludes the rights of transgender women from their advocacy of women’s rights
Other counter-demonstrators who expressed support for Chappelle hold signs that read ‘Cancel culture sucks’ and ‘Truth is not transphobic’
Dan Levy, the star of Schitt’s Creek which streamed on Netflix, posted a tweet expressing solidarity with the demonstrators.
‘I stand with every employee at Netflix using their voice to ensure a safe and supportive work environment,’ the Emmy Award-winning actor, who is gay, said in a statement.
‘I’ve seen firsthand 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.’
Elliot Page, the Canadian star who came out as transgender and who has several credits including Netflix films and miniseries such as Tallulah, The Umbrella Academy, and Tales of the City, tweeted: ‘I stand with the trans, nonbinary, and BIPOC employees at Netflix fighting for more and better trans stories and a more inclusive workplace.’
Wanda Sykes, the stand-up comic who identifies as a lesbian, tweeted: ‘Standing in solidarity with the Netflix employees speaking truth to power today and sending my full love and support.’
Those taking part in the virtual walkout will not do any work for Netflix. Instead, they will engage in content that supports the trans community as well as donate to charities.
Lily Weaver holds a plackard as she attends a rally in support of the Netflix transgender employee walkout
Ashlee Marie Preston speaks to media during a rally in support of the Netflix transgender employee walkout in Los Angeles on Wednesday
Protesters make gestures during a demonstration near Netflix offices in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles on Wednesday
A counterdemonstrator (far left) holds a sign that reads ‘Netflix, don’t cancel free speech’ during the protest near Netflix offices in Los Angeles on Wednesday
Another counterdemonstrator holds a sign that reads ‘Learn to laugh at yourself’ on Wednesday
Actor and activist Vico Ortiz shouts slogans during a protest in support of the virtual walkout by trans employees at Netflix on Wednesday
Drag queen Eureka O’Hara (left) speaks to a counter protester during a rally in support of the Netflix transgender employee walkout
Drag queen Eureka O’Hara speaks to protesters and assembled members of the press in Los Angeles on Wednesday
A group of employees calling itself Team Trans* scheduled a rally outside Netflix’s 13-story Sunset Boulevard offices in Los Angeles, where activists, public figures and other supporters plan to present Sarandos with a ‘list of asks’
Netflix’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, acknowledged that he ‘screwed up’ by writing memos that denied Chappelle’s comedy special, The Closer, was transphobic. But he has resisted demands by protest organizers to add a disclaimer to the special or to take it down from the service altogether.
Sarandos won support from his co-CEO, Reed Hastings, who told staff the firm was ‘on the right side of history’ for continuing to stream and promote The Closer.
A group of employees calling itself Team Trans* scheduled a rally outside Netflix’s 13-story Sunset Boulevard offices in Los Angeles, where activists, public figures and other supporters plan to present 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 commonplace in Silicon Valley, where employees of Facebook and Google have engaged in open protest to draw attention to corporate policies, this is believed to be a first for the pioneer streaming video company.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings defended the platform’s decision to continue streaming Dave Chappelle’s controversial comedy special The Closer
‘It’s violent to make members of the transgender community who work for your company participate in the oppression of their own community, and we’re here to disrupt that and stand in solidarity with the employees,’ Preston told The Hollywood Reporter.
Preston organized the rally in front of Netflix offices in Hollywood so as to accommodate more people.
‘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,’ Netflix said in a statement, which said the company ‘understands the deep hurt that’s been caused.’
Organizers presented a list of ‘firm asks’ to Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos at Wednesday morning’s rally, which leader Ashlee Marie Preston earlier said had been moved to a larger site due to ‘overwhelming demand.’
Among the list of demands includes removal of all references to and imagery of Chappelle, including murals and posters, from the workplace as well as an official company statement acknowledging the ‘harm’ caused to the transgender community.
The company is also being asked to invest more money in trans-centered content as well as to set aside a fund specifically aimed at promoting trans and non-binary talent both behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera.
‘There are many places where Netflix still has to grow’: Trans employees present list of demands
The following is the full text of the letter written by a group of transgender employees at Netflix to the company leadership:
‘Over the past few weeks, it has become clear that there are many places where Netflix still has to grow when it comes to content relating to the trans and non-binary community.
‘The Trans* Employee Resource Group, which includes trans and non-binary colleagues as well as our numerous allies, wants Netflix to immediately take the steps below to begin to repair the relationship between the Company, our colleagues, and our audience.
‘Specifically, we want the Company to adopt measures in the areas of Content Investment, Employee Relations and Safety, and Harm Reduction, all of which are necessary to avoid future instances of platforming transphobia and hate speech, and to account for the harm we have caused and will continue to cause until the below measures are put in place.
- Create a new fund to specifically develop trans and non-binary talent
This fund should support both above-the-line (ATL) and below-the-line (BTL) talent;
This fund should exist in addition to the existing Creative Equity Fund;
- Increase investment in trans and non-binary content on Netflix comparable to our total investment in transphobic content, including marketing and promotion;
- Invest in multiple trans creators to make both scripted and unscripted programs across genres;
- Revise internal processes on commissioning and releasing potential harmful (‘sensitive’) content, including but not limited to involving parties who are a part of the subject community and can speak to potential harm, or consulting with 3rd party experts/vendors;
- Increase the ERG role in conversations around potentially harmful content and ensure we have best in class regional support on complicated intersectional diversity issues;
- Hire trans and non-binary content executives, especially BIPOC, in leading positions;
Employee Relations and Safety
- Recruit trans people, especially BIPOC, for leadership roles in the company (Director, VP, etc.) and promote an inclusive environment for them;
- Allow employees to remove themselves from previous company promotional content (e.g. allyship and diversity videos, etc.);
- Eliminate references/imagery of transphobic titles or talent inside of the workplace, including but not limited to murals, posters, room names, swag;
- Acknowledge the harm and Netflix’s responsibility for this harm from transphobic content, and in particular harm to the Black trans community;
- Add a disclaimer before transphobic titles that specifically flag transphobic language, misogyny, homophobia, hate speech, etc. as required;
- Boost promotion for Disclosure and other trans-affirming titles in the platform;
- Suggest trans-affirming content alongside and after content flagged as anti-trans.
We are employees, but we are members, too. We believe that this Company can and must do better in our quest to entertain the world, and that the way forward must include more diverse voices in order to avoid causing more harm. The Trans* ERG looks forward to working with the Company to make this a better, more entertaining place for us all.
Activists are also demanding that Netflix reform its ‘internal processes’ before releasing anything that has ‘potential harmful content.’
The list of demands also includes promoting transgender people to top leadership roles in the company, including directors and vice presidents.
The organizers are also demanding that Netflix attach a disclaimer to The Closer that warns viewers of its ‘transphobic language, misogyny, homophobia, and hate speech.’
The walkout will call for content that prioritizes ‘the safety and dignity of all marginalized communities,’ she wrote on Instagram.
Transgender Netflix employee Terra Field has called on the streamer to add a content warning to The Closer, and to promote more ‘queer and trans comedians and talent.’
‘A place can’t be a great place to work if someone has to betray their community to do so,’ Field wrote in a blog post Monday.
The Closer has been condemned by LGBTQ groups, which cited studies linking stereotypes about minorities to real-world harm.
Sarandos wrote to staff in a leaked internal memo last week that ‘content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm,’ and emphasized the importance of defending ‘artistic freedom.’
But the co-CEO gave interviews to multiple Hollywood trade publications late Tuesday in which he admitted: ‘I screwed up.’
‘I should have first and foremost acknowledged in those emails that a group of our employees were in pain, and they were really feeling hurt from a business decision that we made,’ he told The Hollywood Reporter.
While agreeing that ‘content on screen can have impact in the real world, positive and negative,’ Sarandos reiterated his belief that the Chappelle stand-up should not be taken down or have any disclaimer added.
‘This group of employees felt a little betrayed because we’ve created such a great place to work that they forgot that sometimes these challenges will come up,’ said Sarandos.
It is not the first time Netflix has drawn fire for boundary-pushing content.
The coming-of-age story Cuties was accused of hypersexualizting 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.’
Three employees including Field were reportedly suspended last week after crashing a virtual meeting for executives on the Chappelle special, but later reinstated.
Another was sacked for leaking internal data about the cost of the program.
The walkout and rally have drawn support from film and television celebrities such as Jameela Jamil (The Good Place) and Jonathan Van Ness (Queer Eye), who have recorded a video message expressing ‘love and support’ for the movement.
‘This has been such a challenging time I’m sure for all of you,’ Van Ness said in a video released Wednesday by the activist group Team Trans.
‘It really is so often the trans, non-binary and intersex folks who actually advance theses conversations so often at risk to themselves and to their careers.’
Van Ness identifies as nonbinary.
‘I know it’s not easy. I know it’s scary. I have so much respect for you and so much love and gratitude for you for sticking up for the LGBT+ community’s right to dignity and safety and respect,’ said Jamil.
Acclaimed comedian Hannah Gadbsy – who has her own popular Netflix specials – last week called the streaming giant an ‘amoral algorithm cult.’
Chappelle has been accused of mocking transgender people in the past, but remains hugely popular.
In The Closer, he describes a US rapper who ‘punched the LGBTQ community right in the AIDS,’ compares trans women to the use of Blackface, and jokes about threatening to kill a woman and stash her body in his car.
Chappelle – who is black – also argues that white gay people ‘are minorities until they need to be white again,’ and that LGBTQ communities have made progress in a few years that black people have not enjoyed in decades.
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