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A group of Dave Chappelle fans came out in support of the comedian at a rally organised by trans rights activists against his controversial new special The Closer.
The rally “Stand-Up For Solidarity” kicked off on Wednesday (20 October) outside Netflix’s sprawling California offices to coincide with an employee walkout protesting the streaming giant’s decision to release the show that many have criticised as transphobic.
While employees and allies chanted “Trans Lives Matter” and “Transphobia Is No Joke”, the Chappelle contingent retorted with “We Like Jokes”. They were also seen with signs that read “We Like Dave” and “Jokes Are Funny.”
There were some tense moments between the two opposing groups, including when a trans-rights protester snatched the “Jokes Are Funny” sign out of a man’s hand and ripped it in two, according to Variety.
Trans rights activist Ashlee Marie Preston, who organised the rally, said she had decided to speak up because Netflix employees had been silenced by the company’s senior executives.
She also revealed that Chappelle turned down her invitation to have an open, honest conversation about the special at the rally.
“This isn’t an instance of cancel culture because I’ve invited Dave Chappelle to have a dialogue with us,” Marie Preston said. “I’m here today to talk to the people who signed the check.”
“Team Trans,” Netflix’s trans employees’ resource group, also announced that it would be presenting Sarandos with a list of asks, including setting up a separate fund to support trans and non-binary talent, and removing any imagery of Chappelle from the Netflix office.
The comedian’s fans reportedly announced that they were demonstrating for his right to freedom of speech and expression.
One of them, Gigi LaRoux, defended Chappelle and the streaming giant. “This boils down to equality, and if people want equality, they have to be put on the same level as anybody else,” she told Variety. “Comedians are equal opportunity destroyers. You can’t pick and choose who you’re going to make fun of.”
In a statement released ahead of the walkout, a Netflix spokesperson said: “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.”
The Wednesday walkout and rally marked the end of a tumultuous week for Netflix, as it continued to grapple with the fallout from Chappelle’s special, which was released on 5 October.
Chappelle faced heavy criticism after he said in his latest special that he was “team Terf (trans-exclusionary radical feminist),” defending Harry Potter author JK Rowling.
He said: “They canceled JK Rowling – my God. Effectually she said gender was fact, the trans community got mad as s***, they started calling her a Terf … I’m team Terf.”
Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos repeatedly defended the special in a series of staff memos, saying The Closer would remain on the OTT platform, and argued that it was no more likely to incite violence than some of Netflix’s other controversial titles such as 365 Days.
But Sarandos later admitted that he “screwed up” by defending Chappelle. “I should have recognised the fact that a group of our employees was really hurting,” he told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.
Since the release of The Closer, three Netflix employees have been suspended, then reinstated, including a software engineer who identifies as a trans woman and called out the special publicly. One staffer was fired for allegedly disclosing confidential financial information about the special. The fired employee, B Pagels-Minor, was among the protestors at Wednesday’s rally.
Top Netflix stars have criticised the content company for its decision to back Chappelle.
Comedian Hannah Gadsby, whose specials Nanette and Douglas are both available on Netflix, called the company an “amoral, algorithmic cult”.
Umbrella Academy star Elliot Page released a statement on Twitter in support of the protesting employees ahead of the planned walkout that read: “I stand with the trans, non-binary, and BIPOC employees at Netflix fighting for more and better trans stories and a more inclusive workplace.”