Netflix: Why are staff protesting over one of its own shows?

Report by ITV News Digital Journalist Jocelyn Evans

A number of Netflix staff have staged a walkout from the streaming giant's headquarters in Hollywood and joined a protest over the release of a show by US comedian Dave Chappelle.

Here's a rundown of what the stand-up said, why people are angry, and what Netflix plans to do about it.

Why are Netflix staff protesting?

Well there's more than one reason but it stems from a Netflix comedy special, The Closer, with stand-up Dave Chappelle.

In the 75 minute show the 48-year-old makes a number of comments that have been slammed for being transphobic.

After the special aired, Netflix ran into more criticism over leaked internal memos that responded to employees' concerns.

In the documents co-CEO Ted Sarandos says "content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm."

Ted Sarandos wrote to Netflix employees saying 'content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.' Credit: AP

He added Netflix doesn’t allow shows that are "designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe ‘The Closer’ crosses that line".

The streaming giant boss also gave interviews where he failed to acknowledge "a group of our employees was really hurting", he told The Wall Street Journal.

What did Dave Chappelle say?

In the stand-up set, the comedian says "gender is a fact" and accuses LGBT+ people of being "too sensitive".

In his last special for the streaming giant Chappelle says he's "team TERF". TERF refers to people who claim to be feminists but exclude the rights of transgender women.

The comedian expressed his support for JK Rowling saying she was "cancelled". The author received backlash for her comments about trans people.

Chappelle also commented on the genitals of transgender people, saying "trans women’s" genitalia are "not quite what it is".

The comic also joked that rapper DaBaby had "pushed a button" with LGBT+ people over comments about gay men and Aids. Chappelle said the rapper had made a mistake when he said, among other things, "even my gay fans don’t got f****** Aids".

Chappelle also spoke at length about Daphne Dorman, a trans comedian who took her own life in 2019. The comic said the pair were good friends and that he had helped her with her comedy career.

Chappelle said Dorman had been "hounded" on Twitter before her death, after she defended him over comments about trans people.

"It's a true story; my heart was broken. I don't know what was going on, but I'll bet dragging her didn't help," he said.

What have Netflix employees (and other protesters) said?

Contrary to the claims of the Netflix boss that staff weren't hurt, Terra Field, a trans woman who says on Twitter she's a senior software engineer at Netflix posted tweets critical of Chappelle's special immediately after it aired.

She explained the comedian was criticised not just because his remarks are offensive - but because they do harm to the trans community, especially Black women.

Indeed Netflix aired an original documentary, Disclosure, last year about the negative impact of transgender depictions in film and television.

What do protesters say?

Ashlee Marie Preston, an activist and organiser of the protest, said calling out Chappelle for his remarks wasn't enough.

"It was important to shift the focus to the people that sign the checks, because Dave Chappelle doesn’t sign checks, Netflix does," Ms Preston told AP.

"If we have companies like Netflix who aren’t listening to their employees, who are forcing their employees to participate in their own oppression, that’s unacceptable."

A number of television makers have voiced their support for the protesters.

Joey Soloway, creator of Emmy-winning comedy Transparent, said Chappelle’s decision to share "his outrage as comedic humiliation in front of thousands of people, and then broadcasting it to hundreds of millions of people is infinitely amplified gender violence".

Non-binary filmmaker Vishal P Singh, who's helped create documentaries for Netflix, said "Chappelle's transphobia is consistent and it translates to real world hate."

Elliot Page, who stars in Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy and is transgender, tweeted his support for Netflix staff taking action to fight "for more and better trans stories and a more inclusive workplace."

Gabrielle Korn, LGBTQ+ Audience Lead at Netflix, said employees were "fighting FOR Netflix".

She wrote: "We all know how great it can be, & that it's not there yet. It says so in our culture memo. Recently it feels like the plot has been lost, like leadership thinks we're already as good as we can be. Clearly that's untrue.

"Netflix needs better trans representation at every level, in front of the camera and behind it, within the halls of our offices, in leadership positions and creative positions. We won't stop fighting for it until we get there."

Leia Figueroa, a student from Los Angeles, doesn’t work at Netflix but said she wanted to back the walkout.

"They’re saying things like ‘Black lives matter’ and ‘We don’t stand for transphobia.’ If you say things like that, then you have to be vetting all of your content to reflect your values," she said.

Do they have support?

In a statement, the media watchdog group GLAAD said it salutes the Netflix’s employees, allies and LGBTQ and Black advocates "calling for accountability and change within Netflix and in the entertainment industry as a whole."

Credit: AP

And what about those who disagree?

A small counterprotest gathered outside the Netflix headquarters too.

Belissa Cohen, a former journalist, said she was on hand to "support Netflix’s decision not to pull" the special.

"We want to show that there isn’t unanimous support about transgender ideology when it comes to Netflix viewers," Cohen said.

She was among about a dozen people who carried placards reading "Free speech is a right" and "Truth is not transphobic."

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