The firestorm Dave Chappelle started with derisive comments about trans people in The Closer, his latest Netflix special, has continued for another week, leading to firings, an apology from CEO Ted Sarandos, and a high-profile walkout on October 20 organized by a trans employee resource group at Netflix.The group has also released a list of demands, including that Netflix designate a new fund for supporting trans and non-binary talent, actively seek trans people of color for leadership positions, and add disclaimers ahead of any transphobic content.
On October 15, news broke that Netflix had fired one of the key organizers of the walkout, alleging that they had disseminated metrics for The Closer to the media. (Bloomberg reported that Netflix spent a little over $24 million on the special and it had been viewed by 10 million people.) “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 company told the Verge.
Several celebrities have come out in support of the employees, including Elliott Page, Dan Levy, and Jameela Jamil. “I stand with the trans, nonbinary, and BIPOC employees at Netflix fighting for more and better trans stories and a more inclusive workplace,” Page tweeted. (Most, the Netflix Twitter account representing LGBTQ+ programming shared that their entire team was walking out in solidarity.)
Terra Field, the Netflix senior software engineer whose viral thread about Chappelle’s special helped kickstart the widespread conversation, was reinstated by the company after it suspended her for attempting to attend a high-level meeting to which she was not originally invited.
“Dave is not, and has never been, the cause of this problem — he is a symptom of it. 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,” Field wrote on her website. “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.”
In an October 19 Q&A with Variety, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos admitted he “screwed up that internal communication” regarding objections to The Closer. In an earlier email released after people started taking exception to The Closer, Sarandos praised Chappelle’s previous special, Sticks & Stones, and said, “We don’t allow titles on Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe The Closer crosses that line.”
“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,” Sarandos told Variety. “And I think that needs to be acknowledged up front before you get into the nuts and bolts of anything. I didn’t do that.”
According to USA Today, the walkout included roughly 150 people and featured an appearance from non-binary RuPaul’s Drag Race competitor Eurika, who said people enjoying The Closer were “laughing in the face of our pain.” There were also apparent counter protestors on site, signaling that the issue is still far from resolved.