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Dave Chappelle: Netflix employees join protest over handling of trans controversy

Netflix employees were among those who took part in an in-person rally and a virtual walkout on Wednesday as part of the backlash against the streamer’s recently released Dave Chappelle special, The Closer, which critics say contains transphobic and homophobic material.

Dave Chappelle (photo: John Bauld via CC)

Hundreds gathered at Netflix’s Vine Street office in LA to present a “list of asks” to co-CEO Ted Sarandos after the SVoD giant stood by its decision to release the stand-up special, prompting Netflix staffers and trans allies to organise a rally to protest the streamer’s involvement with Chappelle.

The “Asks for Trans* Walkout” list included requests that Netflix eliminate references/imagery of Chappelle inside of Netflix’s offices, including but not limited to murals, posters and room names; acknowledge that the special causes harm to the trans community; keep the conversation around transphobia evolving internally; and invest in trans and non-binary content and creators across scripted and unscripted.

The list also asked the company to hire transgender content executives to promote an inclusive environment; add a disclaimer at the start of the Chappelle special stating that it contains transphobic language, misogyny, homophobia and hate speech; and enhance the promotion of trans-affirming content carried by Netflix.

Last week, many people from the LGBTQ+ community came out in strong opposition to the special, arguing that it contained hate speech and could incite and amplify violence toward transgender people. The situation escalated when an internal memo sent by Sarandos was leaked, in which he wrote: “While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”

The rally, organised by filmmaker, journalist and media personality Ashlee Marie Preston, was initially set to take place outside Netflix’s HQ on Sunset Boulevard. However, not long before it was due to begin, the rally was relocated to Netflix’s Vine Street office for safety and accessibility reasons. It was attended by a combination of Netflix staffers and allies, in addition to some counter protesters.

Among the protesters was B Pagels-Minor, the non-binary Netflix employee who was fired last Friday after Netflix said Pagels-Minor had leaked sensitive financial information to US publication Bloomberg.

According to data leaked in the Bloomberg story, Netflix spent US$24.1m on Chappelle’s most recent special and US$23.6m on his 2019 special Sticks & Stones. The article also said the streamer paid US$3.9m for comedian Bo Burnham’s pandemic special Inside and US$21.4m for the Korean drama sensation Squid Game.

During Wednesday’s rally, according to a report from US trade publication Deadline, Pagels-Minor said they did not leak the information to the media.

“I compiled a series of data, I’m a data person, and I shared it with a lot of people internally,” Pagels-Minor told Deadline. “If they’re going to fire me, they’re going to have to fire a lot of people.”

Netflix swiftly responded to the claim, asserting that Pagels-Minor was in fact the one who leaked the data.

In a statement shared with C21, a Netflix spokesperson said: “While we would never normally talk about an investigation like this, 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.”

High-profile film and TV figures including Umbrella Academy star Elliott Page, Schitt’s Creek creator Dan Levy and Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness are among those to publicly support the walkout.

Earlier in the day, prior to the walkout, which had been planned for over a week, Netflix issued a statement saying: “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 recognise we have much more work to do both within Netflix and in our content.”

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