Tensions continue to rise between Netflix and its transgender employees after Dave Chappelle’s newest comedy special The Closer, received pushback for controversial commentary. An employee walkout on Wednesday (Oct. 20) was set up to protest the company for supporting Chappelle who is accused of being transphobic and homophobic in the standup routine. According to Variety, the walkout received support from stars including Angelica Ross, Jonathan Van Ness, and others.
The in-person rally took place at Netflix’s Vine Street office in Hollywood. It was originally planned for Netflix’s Epic Building location however due to the overwhelming response, organizers decided to move the protest to Hollywood. Participants ranged from employees to grassroots organizers and public figures. Overall, the goal of the event, organized by Ashlee Marie Preston, was “to underscore the importance of responsible content offerings that prioritize the safety and dignity of all marginalized communities.”
Preston, a host and media personality, has assured that Chappelle is “not ‘canceled'” and has been invited to participate in conversations.
Protestors were met with Chappelle supporters who rallied for the comedian’s right to “free speech.” The Los Angeles Times reported Chappelle’s fans surrounded those supporting the transgender community with signs featuring phrases such as “Jokes are funny” and “Dave is funny.” Participants continued their movement, chanting things such as, “What do we want? Accountability! When do we want it? Now!” and “trans lives matter.”
A list of walkout demands issued to Netflix includes that the company create a fund supporting trans and nonbinary talent and to add a disclaimer to The Closer saying it “contains transphobic language, misogyny, homophobia, and hate speech.”
“The conversation that we’re having today, more than anything, is about the emergence of what I’m calling a ‘hate economy,’ and it is the capitalization of harm and violence that exists online and onscreen … and the ways in which algorithmic science is being manipulated to take advantage of those moments and to profit from it,” explained Preston.
During an interview on Tuesday (Oct. 19.) Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos shared that he “screwed up.” Previously, in an internal company memo, he supported Chappelle even though the LGBTQ+ community had been vocal about the harm in the comedian’s rhetoric. However, Sarandos still maintains that The Closer does not violate any hate speech policies set in place by the streaming platform.
Last week, an unidentified Netflix employee was fired from the company for allegedly leaking the internal data to Bloomberg regarding the Chappelle special. According to Variety, the person revealed confidential information confirming the streaming company paid a total of $24.1 million for The Closer, and $23.6 million for Chappelle’s Sticks & Stones, more than the $21.4 million revealed to have been issued for Squid Game, Netflix’s current most successful release of all time. The leak also highlighted that Netflix estimated an “impact value” for Sticks & Stones of $19.4 million, less than what the company paid.
“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,” said Netflix in a statement issued after the Hollywood protest.
The terminated employee, later identified as B. Pagels-Minor, has denied the allegation according to the LA Times and shared pregnancy news during the rally.
“As most of you know, I’m 33 weeks pregnant,” said Pagels-Minor. “And when I thought about why I’m participating in this, it’s [so] that my son does not grow up with content that says that it hates me. I want my child to grow up in a world where they see that their parent, a Black, trans person—because I exist, contrary to what the special says, contrary to what many people say—that I’m valued, and I’m an important person.”
Meanwhile, Chappelle continues to entertain sold-out shows across the globe. According to Variety, the 48-year-old comedian hosted a sold-out show in London on the same day as the protest. During his event, he indicated he would be embarking on a 10-city tour amid the controversy. Many who attended the show were unwilling to share with the media outlet the content of Chappelle’s performance. Some however did offer support of the star.
“I think everyone’s entitled to their own opinion on certain subjects. I feel like as a comedian, it’s your job to make people laugh and I don’t think he’s doing it from a malicious place,” said Michael, a 29-year-old who described himself to the outlet as mixed race. “He’s probably experienced a lot of racism and a lot of trials and tribulations himself.”
“Well, we’re gay, we’re lesbians,” added another patron. They declined to identify by name. “We’re a couple and we think it’s fine. We don’t think he’s being rude or hurting anyone or being disrespectful. I don’t think that he’s homophobic or anything like that.”