netflix walkout

I Was a Black Trans Leader at Netflix. Then I Was Fired.

B. Pagels-Minor recalls the unrest that forced an employee walkout.

Trans employees and allies at Netflix organized a walkout on October 20. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
Trans employees and allies at Netflix organized a walkout on October 20. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

After the premiere of Dave Chappelle’s sixth Netflix comedy special, The Closer, a worldwide audience joined a conservation about transphobia that had begun internally at Netflix two years earlier. Around the release of Chappelle’s 2019 special, Sticks & Stones, disappointed employees began expressing their frustration at the company for promoting a special littered with crude remarks about gender-affirming pronouns and genitalia. Two years later, The Closer outright defended transphobia. Members of the trans- and Black-employee-resource groups at Netflix considered the content to be harmful to trans people and suggested adding a content warning not unlike the one used for 13 Reasons Why in 2019. A content warning has yet to be added. This week, employees released a list of demands asking Netflix 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.”

Over the course of ten days in October, emails from Netflix chief executive Ted Sarandos saying the special “doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm” were leaked to the news. Three employees including software engineer Terra Field, who spoke out about the special on Twitter, were suspended for joining without explicit invitation a conference call attended by leaders of the company, though they were later reinstated. B. Pagels-Minor, formerly a program manager at Netflix, was terminated last week for allegedly leaking company metrics about the special’s cost and reach. Pagels-Minor, a Black trans nonbinary person whose pronouns are they/them, was a co-leader of the Trans* at Netflix and Black@ Netflix employee-resource groups that led the discussions. Within hours of announcing plans for an employee walkout to address Netflix’s continued support of Chappelle, they say they were fired. “We don’t suspend people at Netflix. We don’t have this inquisition-type stuff at Netflix,” Pagels-Minor told Vulture over the phone Tuesday. “This is just not stuff that happens here.”

In a statement to Vulture, a Netflix spokesperson said: “These claims are not supported by the facts. This employee admitted sharing confidential information externally from their Netflix email on several occasions. Also, they were the only employee to access detailed, sensitive data on four titles that later appeared in the press. They claim only to have shared this information in an internal document, and that another employee must have leaked it. However, that document was missing data for one title and so cannot have been the source for the leak. In addition to having no explanation for this discrepancy, the employee then wiped their devices, making any further investigation impossible.” Pagels-Minor denies being the source of the leak. According to their lawyer, Laurie Burgess, Pagels-Minor had informed the vice president of human resources they planned to delete their computer and phone, which held personal data, and was unaware Netflix opened an investigation until the devices were confiscated.

Below, B. Pagels-Minor recalls the recent unrest at Netflix in their own words. “We’re not asking you to take down the content,” Pagels-Minor said of Netflix. “We’re asking you to potentially put a trigger warning on that content but also to look into investing time and money in creating content that shows the other side of the story.”

The problem is not necessarily about the special. It’s about this ongoing conversation that felt false. There’s gonna be content that people disagree with. There’s no question about that. But how do you create parity in content? How do you create another story, another documentary, another show, another film that combats the story that Dave Chappelle is putting forward. Why aren’t you investing in that?

First and foremost, I am the person who was fired. Before I left Netflix, my actual title was game-launch operations program manager. And I was the co-lead of Black@ Netflix and Trans* at Netflix. Not only that, I was the face of Netflix for several external campaigns to help with recruitment. The internal comms team that deals with PR would come to me and say, “We’re thinking about doing something. Would you be interested in representing?” I’ve been in tech since 2010. I’ve been in a lot of toxic tech companies. Honestly, Netflix was like my Shangri-la. I was like, Oh my gosh, they’re so nice to me. They don’t misgender me. At Netflix, the first thing I did when my old manager reached out to me is ask, “Can I talk to some trans people and some Black people so I could figure out if I could trust you or not?” And the first thing he did was introduce me to trans people and Black people. I chose Netflix because it was going to be the place that I was not going to have to worry about any of this.

I am 33 weeks pregnant. I am a high-risk pregnancy. Before October 5, I was just like, I’m working on gaming. My last day in office is November 12. Let me kick ass and take names and do everything possible to make sure my team is situated so they can be super successful while I’m out. Then October 6 happened, and everything blew up. I have never in my experience as a human seen the emotionality, the outpouring of concern. It got worse and worse because the Ted emails felt so weird from the culture. I read that email, and it felt so anti-Netflix. I am angry. I am upset. I am horrified that that was written.

The thing about Netflix is that it does have this open and transparent communication. For instance, with Terra’s suspension: If she got a link to go to the meeting, why wouldn’t she attend the meeting? We found out later that not only did she get the link for the meeting, she got it from a director who was invited to the meeting. So why would she not logically assume that she could attend that meeting? I noticed all of a sudden, documents were getting closed down. I personally was really freaked out because I was this vocal person for all of this stuff. I was specifically posting my comments in a public-facing transgender channel that had over a thousand people in it, saying, “Hey, here’s the next steps. Now this is what’s happening. This is what our thoughts are,” and all these other things. And minutes after I would post them, people were releasing them to the news.

Over a week later, I posted earlier in the day that we had decided that this was going to be a walkout. Then I got a message from my manager saying that she wanted to check in with me. I joined the call and she said, “Oh, by the way, this is actually super-serious.” HR and legal got on the call and they were just like, “Hey, B., so we noticed that you accessed all this data. It seems like this data is the same stuff that’s in the Bloomberg article.” I explained to them that I had pulled all this data. It was a part of the argument for diversifying content on the network. It’s a better value-add than necessarily investing so much money into some of these specials. There’s pieces of content that Netflix currently has that are far cheaper than some other pieces of content and do much better when it comes to engaging the audience. The question became to me, How can we say very clearly, you can make 25 or 100 specials of LGBTQ+-comedy people for the same price as one Chappelle special?

I created publicly viewable Google documents and things that people could use, and I shared this information broadly. Ultimately they think that I facilitated the leak by creating these folders of information. I explained to them what happened, and they were like, “We actually kind of believe that you aren’t the one who actually facilitated this. Give us 30 minutes to go back and figure out if we can actually move forward with you or not.” And they came back and they’re like, “Unfortunately, no matter what, it still looks like you’re the person who helped facilitate this because if you hadn’t looked up this information, created these documents, then they wouldn’t have gotten leaked.” I was like, “I’m really sorry this is the outcome.” It was very pleasant. They were like, “Tomorrow, we’ll come pick up your devices, and let’s talk about what you need.”

Then, the very next day, all of a sudden, there’s an investigator at my house picking up the stuff. And then they put out this press release saying that they had fired someone for leaking information. I was like, This is not at all the energy y’all came with last night. I don’t want to participate in this. I’m 33 weeks pregnant; I do not want this stress. However, they’ve only made it worse. Now I feel like I have to talk to the press in order to defend myself and hopefully come to an amicable resolution over all of this. My child may grow up to be trans, may grow up to be cis, and I would not want them to look at their parent and go, “Hey, B., you never did anything to effect change.”

I really want to see Netflix have some movement on the demands from the Trans* employee-resource group. I think that everything that has been asked for will actually make the company better and prepare the company for attitudes and how gender is changing over time. This is just a logical investment to make to be successful long term. The second part of it is that I just want a reasonable solution for myself from a severance perspective. If we do that, then we’re all good. If Ted decides to go through it and support these particular asks, I would go up on stage and shake his hand.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

I Was a Black Trans Leader At Netflix. Then I Was Fired.