Chappelle special prompts Netflix walkout

Alex Veiga and Lynn ElberAP
Comedian Dave Chappelle's latest Netflix special has drawn the ire of trangender activists.
Camera IconComedian Dave Chappelle's latest Netflix special has drawn the ire of trangender activists. Credit: AP

Critics and supporters of comedian Dave Chappelle's latest Netflix special and its "anti-transgender" comments have gathered outside the company's offices, with "Trans lives matter" and "Free speech is a right" among their competing messages.

People began gathering on Wednesday in Los Angeles ahead of a planned walkout by Netflix employees seeking to highlight their objections to Chappelle's stand-up special The Closer and the company's handling of it. By midday, the crowd had swelled to more than 100.

Leia Figueroa, a student from Los Angeles, doesn't work at Netflix but said she wanted to back the walkout. While the streaming service offers positive fare for the LGBTQ community, she said, it's having it both ways by also offering a show like Chappelle's that included disparaging comments about trans women.

Bella Cohen, a former journalist, said she was on hand to "support Netflix's decision not to pull" the special.

Cohen was among about a dozen people who carried placards reading "Free speech is a right" and "Truth is not transphobic". Opposite them were those carrying signs that included "Black Trans Lives Matter" and "Transphobia is not Funny".

Elliot Page, who stars in Netflix's The Umbrella Academy and is transgender, tweeted that he stands with the trans, non-binary and people of colour working at Netflix who are "fighting for more and better trans stories and a more inclusive workplace".

Team Trans, which identifies itself as supporting "trans people working at Netflix trying to build a better world for our community," posted what it called a list of "asks" being made of Netflix by trans and non-binary workers and allies at the company.

They are calling on the company to "repair" its relationships with staff and the audience with changes involving the hiring of trans executives and increased spending on trans and non-binary creators and projects.

"Harm reduction" is another demand, which according to the list includes acknowledgement of what it called Netflix's "responsibility for this harm from transphobic content, and in particular harm to the Black trans community."

It also called for disclaimers to flag content that includes "transphobic language, misogyny, homophobia" and hate speech.

In a statement, the media watchdog group GLAAD said it salutes the Netflix's employees, allies and LGBTQ and black advocates "calling for accountability and change within Netflix and in the entertainment industry as a whole".

Netflix ran into a buzz-saw of criticism not only with the special but in how internal memos responded to employees' concerns, including co-CEO Ted Sarandos' assertion that "content on screen doesn't directly translate to real-world harm".

Sarandos also wrote that Netflix doesn't allow titles that are "designed to incite hate or violence, and we don't believe The Closer crosses that line."

In interviews Tuesday, Sarandos said he failed to recognise that "a group of our employees was really hurting," as he told The Wall Street Journal, and that his comment about the effect of TV on viewers was an oversimplification.

Terra Field, who identifies herself on Twitter as a senior software engineer at Netflix and as trans, posted tweets critical of Chappelle's special immediately after it aired and the comments were widely shared.

In her posts, Field said that the comic was being criticised not because his remarks are offensive but for the harm they do to the trans community, especially Black women. Field included a list of trans and non-binary men and women of colour who she said had been killed, adding in each case that the victim "is not offended."

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