Bay Area Netflix employees, trans supporters protest over comedy special, CEO's handling of fallout

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ByLiz Kreutz KGO logo
Thursday, October 21, 2021
Netflix employees, trans supporters protest over Chappelle special
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Netflix employees walked out of their offices Wednesday to protest jokes about transgender people in Dave Chappelle's comedy special and the company's

LOS GATOS, Calif. (KGO) -- In the Bay Area and Los Angeles today, Netflix employees walked out of their respective offices in protest of how their own company handled backlash to Dave Chappelle's new comedy special where the comedian makes jokes about transgender people.

Among those who participated in the walkout was Terra Field, a trans woman and Bay Area Netflix employee who was recently suspended after she tweeted criticism of the special, and then tried to attend a meeting with Netflix executives to voice her concerns. Field has since been allowed back to work but her experience is part of what led to Wednesday's walkout.

"The support is incredible," Field told reporters outside the streaming-company's Los Gatos office. "Overall, the focus was on positivity, on being a force for good in the world and for understanding the responsibility that we have as a company with the level of media influence we have."

In the Netflix special, "The Closer," Chappelle says "gender is a fact" while speaking about transgender people and shows his support for Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who expressed anti-trans beliefs last year. Chappelle also said he's team "TERF" -- which stands for "trans exclusionary radical feminist."

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"It's just kind of a blow to your stomach to see the hate out in front," Suzanne Ford, a trans activist who serves on the board of directors for San Francisco Pride, told ABC7 News. "You know it's always there, but to really encounter it on the national stage like it is right now, it hurts."

Ford warned that the comments were not only hurtful, but dangerous.

"This crosses the line of poking fun... this was hate speech," she said.

According to Variety, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos initially defended the special by saying content on screen doesn't directly translate to real-world harm. But in an interview with Variety on the eve of the walkout Tuesday night, Sarandos acknowledged that he "screwed up" how it handled the internal communication and response to the special and said that he "should have led with a lot more humanity."

"I read the CEO's apology today," Ford said. "It doesn't go far enough and it's way too late."

Ford and Field both hope Netflix will do better to create more inclusive programming.

"So often only the tragic stories are told about us, or only the mocking stories are told about us, but nobody talks about how beautiful out truth is when we get to live it," Field said.

Field said she doesn't want the special taken down, but would like there to be a disclaimer alongside the special that warns of the potentially harmful comments.

A spokesperson for Netflix released a statement responding to the employee walkout:

"We value our trans colleagues and allies, and understand the deep hurt that's been caused," the spokesperson said. "We respect the decision of any employee who chooses to walk out, and recognize we have much more work to do within Netflix and in our content."

The walkout garnered support from celebrities as well.

Actor and comedian Dan Levy tweeted out a statement saying: "I stand with every employee at Netflix using their voice to ensure a safe and supportive work environment. I've seen firsthand how vital television can be when it comes to influencing the cultural conversation. That impact is real and works both ways: positively AND negatively. Transphobia is unacceptable and harmful. That isn't a debate."

Elliott Page, who recently announced his own transition, tweeted: "I stand with the trans, nonbinary, and BIPOC employees at Netflix fighting for more and better trans stories and a more inclusive workplace."