Netflix workers staged a walkout in October last year in protest of a Dave Chappelle comedy special, in which the comedian was accused of making transphobic jokes.
The comedian responded to the backlash against his show in a video posted on Instagram, saying that he was “more than willing to give transgender people an audience”.
In May 2022, Chappelle was punched on-stage during a performance at the Netflix Is A Joke festival, with the comedian joking “it was a trans man” that attacked him.
However it has not been confirmed whether the attacker targeted the comedian for his controversial comments.
This is everything you need to know about the situation.
Why was Netflix special The Closer criticised?
In the comedy special, called The Closer, Chappelle says that “gender is a fact” and that LGBTQ+ people are “too sensitive”.
He says: “They cancelled JK Rowling - my God. Effectually she said gender was fact, the trans community got mad as s**t, they started calling her a TERF… I’m team TERF.”
TERF is an acronym for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist”, and refers to people who do not believe that transgender women are women.
Chappelle continued: “Gender is a fact. Every human being in this room, every human being on earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on earth. This is a fact.”
Chappelle has expressed transphobic opinions in the past, like in 2016 when he said he didn’t want “a woman with a dick” using the urinal next to him in the bathroom.
He also defended ex-US President Donald Trump’s ban on allowing transgender people into the military.
In his 2019 Netflix special, called Sticks and Stones, Chappelle called transgender people “confusing”.
Did Netflix staff stage a walkout?
Two days after the release of Chappelle’s special, transgender Netflix employee Terra Field responded to the comedian’s claims that the community has a “thin skin”.
In a Twitter thread, she wrote: “I work @Netflix. 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.
“Being trans is actually pretty funny, if you’re someone who actually knows about the subject matter. How could volunteering for a second puberty *not* be funny? That isn’t what he is doing though. Our existence is ‘funny’ to him - and when we object to his harm, we’re “offended”.”
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 then went on to list a huge number of transgender people who had been murdered this year alone.
On Wednesday 20 October 2021, staff staged a walkout in protest, with employees taking part in the rally outside one of the company’s main campuses in Hollywood.
Protest organiser Ashlee Marie Preston said at the rally: “We’re here to speak directly to Netflix.
“We tried to speak to Dave Chappelle but he was not having the conversation so we’re communicating directly with the people who sign the cheques.
“We’re not going away.”
The protesters were not asking for the special to be taken down, but instead for Netflix to create a fund to develop transgender and nonbinary talent in the entertainment industry.
What did Dave Chappelle say in response to backlash?
Chappelle responded on Instagram to the backlash against his Netflix special.
He posted a video on his Instagram account on Monday 25 October, which showed his first public reaction to the criticism since his special aired on Netflix on 5 October.
The video was filmed at a performance in Louisville, Kentucky, alongside podcaster Joe Rogan. He told the audience: "It’s been said in the press that I was invited to speak to transgender employees at Netflix and I refused.
"That is not true. If they had invited me I would have accepted it. Although I am confused about what we are speaking about... You said you want a safe working environment at Netflix.
“Well it seems like I’m the only one that can’t go to the office anymore."
"To the transgender community, I am more than willing to give you an audience," he continued. "But you will not summon me. I am not bending to anybody’s demands."
Chappelle denied he is against the LGBTQ+ community and said “this has nothing to do with them. It’s about corporate interests and what I can say and what I cannot say."
Because of the backlash, Chappelle’s invitations to show his new documentary, Untitled, at film festivals, was rescinded, and he asked the audience to decide “am I cancelled or not?”
He said: "Today, not a film company, not a movie studio, not a film festival... will touch this film”
What did Netflix say?
Prior to the walkout, Netflix issued a statement saying that it would respect any workers who elected to participate in the walkout.
It said: “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.”
Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos had defended the decision to air the programme, and in a leaked staff memo, he said that “content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm”, and also emphasised the importance of “artistic freedom”.
However, he said that he “screwed up” the handling of the situation in an interview with Variety.
He said: “First and foremost, I should have led with a lot more humanity.
“Meaning, I had a group of employees who were definitely feeling pain and hurt from a decision we made.
“And I think that needs to be acknowledged up front before you get into the nuts and bolts of anything. I didn’t do that.”
When asked what the protocol at Netflix is for defining hate speech, and what does or does cross the line, Sarandos explained that the streaming platform would “definitely draw the line on something that would intentionally call for physically harming other people or even remove protections”.
He then clarified that, personally, he does “not believe it falls into hate speech”.
Sarandos added: “One of the things that I think is very important that I want people to understand is that, going forward, it should be really clear that I support artistic freedom and the creators that work at Netflix.
“I’m committed to continuing to increase representation on screen and behind the camera, and I’m always open to learn and improve on how to address these challenges.”