Netflix workers stage walk-out over Chappelle transgender comments

Netflix employees are staging a walk-out on Wednesday in an unprecedented show of defiance to protest the streaming giant’s decision to release comedian Dave Chappelle’s controversial new comedy special, which they say ridicules trans people.

A group of employees calling itself Team Trans* has scheduled a rally outside Netflix Inc.’s 13-story Sunset Boulevard offices in Los Angeles, where activists, public figures and other supporters plan to present the company’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, with a “list of asks.”

“We shouldn’t have to show up quarterly/annually to push back against harmful content that negatively impacts vulnerable communities,” organizer Ashlee Marie Preston wrote in a social media post. “Instead, we aim to use this moment to shift the social ecology around what Netflix leadership deems ethical entertainment.”

While such demonstrations have become common in Silicon Valley, where employees of Facebook and Google have engaged in open protests to draw attention to corporate policies, this is believed to be a first for the pioneer streaming video company.

On-screen content ‘doesn’t translate to real-world harm’: Sarandos

Dave Chappelle arrives for the world premiere of A Star is Born at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in Toronto, Canada, September 9, 2018. The comedian is under fire for comments he made about trans people during a recent Netflix special. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Even as it posted record subscriber numbers Tuesday, propelled by the global popularity of the South Korean thriller Squid Game, Netflix faces internal dissent over its handling of Chappelle’s stand-up show The Closer.

Sarandos stoked further backlash with an Oct. 11 staff memo in which he acknowledged Chappelle’s provocative language but said it didn’t cross the line into inciting violence. “We have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t translate to real-world harm.”

8:03Dave Chappelle in hot water again

Pop culture columnist Rad Simonpillai explains why the latest controversy surrounding comedian Dave Chappelle has led to people calling on Netflix to remove his latest specia. 8:03

It is not the first time Netflix has drawn fire for boundary-pushing content. The coming-of-age story Cuties was accused of hypersexualizing young girls, and the teen suicide drama 13 Reasons Why was blamed for a rise in teen suicides.

The controversy of The Closer is playing out against the backdrop of a company-wide diversity effort that began in 2018, after Netflix’s former head of communications was fired for using a racial epithet in company meetings while discussing offensive language in comedy. The stated goal, according to an inclusion report published in January, is to create a workplace where employees “feel like they have a home here. That they belong.”

“It doesn’t feel good to have been working at the company that put that out there,” Terra Field, a software engineer at Netflix, wrote in a Medium post. “Especially when we’ve spent years building out the company’s policies and benefits so that it would be a great place for trans people to work.”

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