The controversy surrounding comedian Dave Chappelle over his comments that were deemed transphobic sparked a companywide memo from Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos, a terse response from GLAAD, as well as plans for a walkout protest at the streamer.
Following the release of his comedy special, The Closer which premiered last week on Netflix, the award winning comic triggered a slew of think pieces, Twitter debates, and calls from members of the LGBTQ community for Netflix to cut ties with Chappelle. Critics argued that his jokes, which heavily focused on the LGBTQ community, could lead to “real world harm.”
But opinions differ in the executive ranks at the company. In a statement released to Los Angeles, a Netflix spokesperson said: “Dave Chappelle’s specials are consistently the most-watched comedy specials on Netflix, and have earned many awards, including both an Emmy and a Grammy for Sticks and Stones. We support artistic expression for our creators. We also encourage our employees to disagree openly.”
Here are the newest six developments:
Netflix Fires Employee for Leaking Confidential Data About The Closer
The streaming giant cut ties with a staffer who allegedly leaked confidential financial information to Bloomberg, which appeared in an article published Oct. 13. The report detailed the cost of Chappelle’s special, according to The Hollywood Reporter. (Netflix reportedly spent $23.6 million on Chappelle’s 2019 Sticks & Stones special, which had an “impact value” of $19.4 million.)
“We have let go of an employee for sharing confidential, commercially sensitive information outside the company,” a Netflix representative said in a statement issued Friday. “We understand this employee may have been motivated by disappointment and hurt with Netflix, but maintaining a culture of trust and transparency is core to our company.”
According to The Verge, the employee who is Black and currently pregnant was also a leader of the trans employee resource group who was organizing a walkout on Oct. 20 in protest of Netflix’s handling of The Closer.
The employee asked to remain anonymous in The Verge story due to fear of online harassment.
Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos Denies Chappelle’s Special Causes ‘Real-World Harm’
After addressing top leadership in a memo on Oct. 8, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos sent a companywide email on Monday, doubling down on the decision to keep The Closer on the streaming platform.
“We know that a number of you have been left angry, disappointed and hurt by our decision to put Dave Chappelle’s latest special on Netflix,” the executive wrote in an email, Variety reports.
“With ‘The Closer,’ we understand that the concern is not about offensive-to-some content but titles which could increase real world harm (such as further marginalizing already marginalized groups, hate, violence etc.) Last year, we heard similar concerns about 365 Days and violence against women. While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm,” he added.
Sarandos said, “The strongest evidence to support this is that violence on screens has grown hugely over the last thirty years, especially with first party shooter games, and yet violent crime has fallen significantly in many countries. Adults can watch violence, assault and abuse – or enjoy shocking stand-up comedy – without it causing them to harm others.”
Meanwhile, the company’s official LGBTQ Twitter account tweeted an apology to its followers for not posting as much because “this week fucking sucks.”
In another tweet they wrote, “To be clear: As the queer and trans people who run this account, you can imagine that the last couple of weeks have been hard. We can’t always control what goes on screen. What we can control is what we create here, and the POV we bring to internal conversations.”
Trans Staffers and Allies Plan Walkout for Oct. 20
News quickly after Netflix suspended three workers—including Terra Field, a senior software engineer at the company, who is trans—for crashing a business meeting reserved for its top 500 employees. The streaming giant denied that their decision had anything to do with the fact that one of the people who was disciplined was trans and had openly criticized Chappelle’s comedy special. All of the employees have since been reinstated, according to The Verge.
But it was Sarandos’ comments that prompted a trans employee resource group at the San Francisco-based company to schedule a virtual walkout for next Wednesday, Oct. 20.
“Trans Lives Matter. Trans Rights Matter. And as an organization, Netflix has continually failed to show deep care in our mission to Entertain the World by repeatedly releasing content that harms the Trans community and continually failing to create content that represents and uplifts Trans content. We can and must do better!” a representative of the trans ERG wrote in an internal organizing message obtained by The Verge.
At least one thousand Netflix employees are expected to participate in the demonstration in which they’ll take a break from doing any work. Instead they will focus on donating to charities and encouraging others to engage in content that supports the trans community, a Netflix staffer told The Hollywood Reporter.
The employee also told THR, “The memo was very disrespectful. It didn’t invite a robust conversation about this hard topic, and that’s normally how things go.”
GLAAD Blasts Ted Sarandos in Strongly Worded Response
The LGBTQ advocacy group issued a statement Wednesday evening in response to Sarando’s comments that “content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”
The statement reads: “GLAAD was founded 36 years ago because media representation has consequences for LGBTQ people. Authentic media stories about LGBTQ lives have been cited as directly responsible for increasing public support for issues like marriage equality. But film and TV have also been filled with stereotypes and misinformation about us for decades, leading to real world harm, especially for trans people and LGBTQ people of color. Ironically, the documentary ‘Disclosure’ on Netflix demonstrates this quite clearly.”
The Family of Daphne Dorman Defends the Comic
At the conclusion of Chappelle’s 72-minute special, he talked about his friendship with a transwoman named Daphne Dorman, a fellow comedian who he let open for him. Dorman later died by suicide in late 2019. Some critics voiced concerns that Chappelle may have been using his relationship with Dorman to validate his commentary about the trans community. But Dorman’s family told The Daily Beast that they weren’t offended by his special.
“Daphne was in awe of Dave’s graciousness,” Dorman’s sister Becky wrote in a text to The Daily Beast. “She did not find his jokes rude, crude, off-coloring, off-putting, anything. She thought his jokes were funny. Daphne understood humor and comedy—she was not offended. Why would her family be offended?”
“Dave loved my sister and is an LGBTQ ally,” Dorman’s younger sister Brandy to The Daily Beast. “His entire set was begging to end this very situation.”
Trans Writer and Showrunner Says She ‘Won’t Work’ For Netflix Again
Jaclyn Moore, a showrunner for the Netflix series Dear White People, took to Twitter and Instagram on Wednesday to say that she’s parting ways with the streaming giant.
“After the Chappelle special, I can’t do this anymore. I won’t work for @netflix again as long as they keep promoting and profiting from dangerous transphobic content,” Moore wrote on Instagram.
In a series of tweets, Moore who transitioned during the pandemic, wrote that Chappelle was one of her comic heroes. But her feelings have since changed.
Moore told Variety, “Look, I have no desire to cancel Dave Chappelle. He should make whatever he wants to make but I will say to Netflix, it’s not like this was a live special. They saw this and were like, “Yeah this seems okay to put out there.” The truth is it’s not. It’s dangerous and it has real world physical violence repercussions. People like to say, “Oh, it’s just a joke.” I get the joke. By the way there’s a lot that’s funny about being trans, but the idea that it’s funny that we call ourselves women, which was the subtext of a lot of those jokes, is not one of them. It’s actually the same language used by people who seek to hurt us.”
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