After weeks of controversy over Dave Chappelle’s offensive Netflix stand-up special, in which the comedian rails against transgender identity, and the response from Netflix, employees at the streaming service are staging a walkout in Los Angeles today, October 20. The walkout is specifically organized by Netflix’s Trans* Employee Resource Group, comprising trans and nonbinary employees and allies.
After Chappelle’s special The Closer came out on October 8, critics and employees alike took aim at Netflix and Chappelle for his transphobic rant while calling himself “team TERF,” or aligned with trans-exclusionary radical feminists who do not consider transgender women to be women. An October 13 Bloomberg report revealed that employees spoke out about the special internally and that company leadership expressed support for the comedian. After the report, Netflix fired an employee, later identified as B. Pagels-Minor, for “sharing confidential information externally from their Netflix email on several occasions,” per a statement to the New York Times; Pagels-Minor denied the allegation through their lawyer. Netflix’s CEO, Ted Sarandos, has also defended the streamer’s partnership with Chappelle in multiple internal memos, statements, and interviews, chalking The Closer’s release up to “creative freedom.” Most recently, on October 19, Sarandos told multiple outlets he “screwed up” handling The Closer internally and should have “led with humanity.” As Netflix employees prepare to walk out, here’s what we know about the protest so far.
What is the walkout?
News of the walkout emerged last week, with outlets reporting that trans employees had planned the action via internal messaging. “I encourage all [members of] Trans* and allies not to work for Netflix that day,” an employee wrote in a Netflix Slack channel for trans employees and allies on October 11, the Los Angeles Times reported. “I encourage us all to state clearly that we, as Netflix employees are stunning not simply when we are doing the work that our roles demand of us but also when we challenge the very principles of our company.” The event is set to begin at 10:30 a.m. ET at a Netflix office in Los Angeles, per organizers, and employees plan to present a list of demands to Sarandos. “We aim to use this moment to shift the social ecology around what Netflix leadership deems ethical entertainment, while establishing policies and guidelines that protect employees and consumers, alike,” Ashlee Marie Preston, an organizer, wrote on Instagram on October 18.
Who is participating?
The walkout is centered around transgender and nonbinary Netflix employees, along with their allies. Organizers moved the location of the walkout rally, per social media, “due to the overwhelming response.” Additionally, the event will feature support from Netflix talent, who recorded a PSA. Stars including Pose’s Angelica Ross, Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness, The Good Place’s Jameela Jamil, Arrow’s Colton Haynes, and Drag Race’s Eureka O’Hara will appear in the PSA, Variety reported. Other celebrities, including comedian Billy Eichner and Matrix co-creator Lilly Wachowski, have voiced their support on social media.
The seven-minute PSA has since been posted to YouTube, also featuring an introduction from Preston, the organizer, and more appearances by Drag Race’s Peppermint and TV writer Our Lady J. Elliot Page, who stars in Netflix’s Umbrella Academy and recently came out as a transgender man, tweeted the video with a message supporting the walkout. Schitt’s Creek co-creator Dan Levy, who announced a Netflix deal last month, has also voiced support for the walkout, tweeting, “Transphobia is unacceptable and harmful. That isn’t a debate.”
What are employees’ demands?
Netflix’s Trans* Employee Resource Group is releasing a list of demands in three areas: content investment, employee relations and safety, and harm reduction, per a press release obtained by the Verge. Content demands include investing more in trans and nonbinary talent and content, along with involving more input from marginalized communities around “potential harmful (’sensitive’) content” on the streamer. The group is also asking the company to recruit more trans leadership, “especially BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color].” While the employees are not demanding Netflix take down the Chappelle special, they are asking the company to take references to anti-trans content out of the office, add disclaimers to harmful content on the streaming service, and pair recommendations for “trans-affirming content” with anti-trans content on the service. Also among the demands under harm reduction, the employees are asking the company to “acknowledge the harm and Netflix’s responsibility for this harm from transphobic content, and in particular harm to the Black trans community.”
What has Netflix said about the walkout?
Netflix has not yet responded to the employee demands. However, in a statement, Netflix expressed support for employees walking out. “We value our trans colleagues and allies, and understand the deep hurt that’s been caused,” a spokesperson said. “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.”
What happened at the walkout?
Celebrities like Eureka O’Hara, who appears in the PSA video, spoke at the walkout rally alongside Preston, the organizer. Preston said the aim of the protest wasn’t about “cancel culture but an avoidance of accountability” from Chappelle, per video from Variety. “I think the message that many people expect for us to deliver today is one around why it’s important to cancel Dave Chappelle,” Preston said. “And so I want to make it very clear that this isn’t an instance of cancel culture because I’ve invited Dave Chappelle to have transformative dialogue with us on multiple occasions, and he has made it clear that it is not of interest to him.” She went on to criticize Netflix executives for promoting “the hate economy” and “a corporate culture that manipulates the algorithmic sciences to distort the way that we perceive ourselves and one another.”
Netflix employees were met with counterprotestors at the walkout, per multiple reporters on the scene. The apparent Chappelle fans carried signs bearing slogans like “Dave Is Funny” and “Jokes Are Funny” and chanted “We like jokes!” Netflix employees responded by chanting “Trans Lives Matter!” as seen in videos of the protest.
This is a developing story and will be updated accordingly.