Update, Oct. 13, 2021 1:50pm ET : Netflix’s trans employee resource group is currently planning a walkout in protest of co-CEO Ted Sarandos’s remarks on the new Dave Chappelle Netflix special “The Closer.” The protest action is scheduled for October 20 and is still planned to occur despite the company rescinding suspensions to engineer Terra Field and two other employees on Tuesday evening.
A new report from The Verge detailed how Netflix employees believe that Sarandos’ comments regarding Chappelle’s special and the company’s response to criticism of its transphobic content have “only inflamed the situation.”
“Our leadership has shown us they do not uphold the values to which we are held. Between the numerous emails and non-answers that have been given, we have been told explicitly that we somehow cannot understand the nuance of certain content,” read an internal message from organizers. -B.B.
“We Are Not Offended”
Criticisms of Netflix have continued this week in the media, among Netflix writers and partners and internally among employees over the latest Dave Chappelle Netflix special “The Closer.” One writer has announced she won’t work for the platform in this state, internal communications boards are full of questions and employee concerns. A transgender Netflix employee who tweeted serious concerns about the special, tried to enter a senior meeting without an invitation and was suspended with two others.
Netlfix software engineer Terra Field criticized and offered commentary on Chappelle’s special, the morning after it aired a week ago, calling out the comedian’s transphobic jokes, his defense of J.K. Rowling and rapper DaBaby’s homophobic and transphobic comments, and his defense of his own history of transphobic comments and bits in past stand-up specials.
“Yesterday we launched another Chappelle special where he attacks the trans community, and the very validity of transness – all while trying to pit us against other marginalized groups. You’re going to hear a lot of talk about ‘offense.’ We are not offended,” Field wrote. “We aren’t complaining about ‘being offended’ and we don’t have ‘thin skin.'”
“What we object to is the harm that content like this does to the trans community (especially trans people of color) and very specifically Black trans women,” she added. “Promoting TERF ideology (which is what we did by giving it a platform yesterday) directly harms trans people, it is not some neutral act. This is not an argument with two sides. It is an argument with trans people who want to be alive and people who don’t want us to be.”
Field listed the 38 trans people that have been killed in 2021 according to statistics gathered by the Human Rights Campaign. “That these 38 people died for the crime of being themselves? That actually does offend me,” Field said.
As Field’s comments spread through social media circles, she and two other employees were suspended after attempting to enter a director-level meeting without an invitation during which the Chappelle special was to be discussed. Management’s support of Chappelle and its suspension of Field whose concerns were known at the time she tried to enter the meeting has led at least one other trans employee to quit, according to The Verge.
Further, The Verge reports that many employees have asked many questions about the show, though none publicly called for pulling the show. “Shortly after it came out, employees started asking pointed questions about whether or not trans people were included in the decision to air the special and where the company draws a line between commentary and transphobia,” reported The Verge’s Zoe Schiffer. Still others warned of the potential danger to Netflix if talent and partners refused to work with them as a result.
Netlfix denied Field’s comments were part of the decision to suspend her, telling The Verge “our employees are encouraged to disagree openly and we support their right to do so.”
An internal email from Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos addressed some of the questions raised by employees, it’s existence offers some proof that the reaction to this programming has been extraordinary. In the email to employees, Sarandos warned that although “third parties” and “talent” might join the protest, that he and other Netflix executives don’t believe “The Closer” promotes hate and that he has no intention of pulling the special.
“We don’t allow titles on Netflix that are designed to incite hate and violence, and we don’t believe ‘The Closer’ crosses that line,” Sarandos wrote. “I recognize, however, that distinguishing between commentary and harm is hard, especially with stand-up comedy which exists to push boundaries. Some people find the art of stand-up to be mean spirited but our members enjoy it, and it’s an important part of our content offering.”
Immediate Calls to Pull Show
“Netflix has a policy that content ‘designed to incite hate or violence’ is not allowed on the platform, but we all know that anti-LGBTQ content does exactly that,” GLAAD said in a statement to Variety. “While Netflix is home to groundbreaking LGBTQ stories, now is the time for Netflix execs to listen to LGBTQ employees, industry leaders, and audiences and commit to living up to their own standards.”
The National Black Justice Coalition called on Netlfix to remove the special citing the increased threat of violence trans communities of color face as result of promoting transphobic content. “Perpetuating transphobia perpetuates violence,” said NBJC executive director David Johns. “Netflix should immediately pull ‘The Closer’ from its platform and directly apologize to the transgender community.”
Jaclyn Moore, showrunner and writer for Netflix’s “Dear White People” who is trans, said she will not work with Netflix “as long as they continue to put out and profit from blatantly and dangerously transphobic content.”
Despite these criticisms, Sarandos shows no sign of budging. He pointed to the company’s commitment to supporting the “creative freedom” of talent “even though this means there will always be content on Netflix some people believe is harmful” in an internal memo released after the same meeting Field and others tried to attend.
Sarandos’ response to the Q&A document also cited titles like “Sex Education” and “Disclosure” as examples of Netflix’s commitment to inclusion, but this idea that the company can make up for hateful content with it didn’t convince all employees.
“You can’t do a carbon offset for bigotry,” a Netflix employee told The Verge.
Dave Chappelle Netflix: Previously on Towleroad
Image by John Bauld CC BY 2.0 changes: Added Netflix logo