Dave Chappelle sparks backlash

The comedian's Netflix comedy special has employees walking out

Published by Joe Wells, Date: October 22, 2021
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Comedian Dave Chappelle arrives to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center in Washington, U.S., October 27, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

With backlash over Dave Chappelle’s latest comedy special continuing, more than 60 workers walked out of Netflix’s headquarters Wednesday morning in protest of the company keeping the show online.

Chappelle’s latest special “The Closer” was released on Oct. 5, with numerous calls for the show to be pulled for transphobic remarks during his stand-up routine, according to some Netflix employees and LGBTQ supporters.

The comedy special has prompted demands from Trans* Employee Resource Group (ERG) at Netflix for the company to invest in transgender content and creators, increase employee relations and safety and reduce harm found in their content and in the workplace.

Transgender employees at Netflix, such as Terra Field, have said the airing and promotion of Chappelle’s stand-up promote trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) ideology. During his set, Chappelle declared himself a TERF.

“They canceled JK Rowling, my God,” Chappelle said. “Effectually, she said gender was fact, the trans community got mad as s—, they started calling her a TERF… I’m team TERF.”

Field, along with two other Netflix employees, were suspended after listening to a quarterly business meeting. Field, who works as a software engineer, was reinstated on Oct. 12, after Netflix determined she did not join the meeting with any ill intent and was given a link to the meeting by a supervisor.

The leader of the transgender employee resource group, who helped organize the walkout, was fired on Oct. 15 for allegedly leaking company data about the Chappelle special to the press, as was first reported by The Verge.

A Netflix spokesperson told The Verge that they understand the former employee was hurt and “may have been motivated by disappointment,” but a culture of trust and transparency is core to the organization.

The focus moved from Chappelle to Netflix’s leadership after Ted Sarandos, co-CEO of Netflix, said they would not be removing the content.

“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,” Sarandos wrote in an email last week, first reported by Variety. “While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”

In an Oct. 18 interview with Variety, Sarandos said he could have done better with his messaging to employees.

“Obviously, I screwed up that internal communication,” Sarandos 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 upfront before you get into the nuts and bolts of anything.”

Sarandos has not spoken out about the walkout.

Chappelle has not spoken about the walkout or the backlash to the press but did address it to those at a show at the Hollywood Bowl, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

“If this is what being canceled is like, I love it,” Chappelle told the crowd. “F— Twitter, F— NBC News, ABC News, all these stupid a– networks. I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to you. This is real life.”

Outrage has also come from LGTBQ+ organizations such as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

“Dave Chappelle’s brand has become synonymous with ridiculing trans people and other marginalized communities,” the organization said in a Twitter post. “Negative reviews and viewers loudly condemning his latest special is a message to the industry that audiences don’t support platforming anti-LGBTQ diatribes. We agree.”

Joe is a senior communication major with concentrations in converged journalism and digital media production. This is his second year with The Rocket and first as the news editor. With a penchant for asking tough questions, his byline can be found on more than 100 articles for The Rocket including many breaking news and investigative pieces. During the hours he’s not wearing the hat of student journalist, he spends his time as a husband, father and dog owner in Slippery Rock.

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Joe Wells
Joe is a senior communication major with concentrations in converged journalism and digital media production. This is his second year with The Rocket and first as the news editor. With a penchant for asking tough questions, his byline can be found on more than 100 articles for The Rocket including many breaking news and investigative pieces. During the hours he’s not wearing the hat of student journalist, he spends his time as a husband, father and dog owner in Slippery Rock.

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