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Netflix employees staged a walkout Wednesday in response to the streaming company’s decision to stand behind comedian Dave Chappelle’s new comedy special, The Closer. The show has been roundly criticized for Chappelle’s transphobic remarks, and the company has been called out over its handling of that criticism.
Hundreds gathered at the company’s Los Angeles office. Trans supporters waved signs in support of trans rights. At points, Variety reports, tensions rose between those who walked out or supported the walkout and fans of the comedian who came out to counterprotest.
Earlier this week, trans employees released a list of demands directed at Netflix leadership, which included greater investment in trans content and more editorial decision-making opportunities for LGBTQ+ workers, according to The 19th.
When the special first aired, Netflix suspended an employee who criticized the company on social media — the reason given was that she had attempted to join a meeting to which she was not invited — and fired a leader of the service’s trans resource group last week, supposedly for leaking data to the media about the Chappelle special.
Leading up to Wednesday’s walkout, activist Ashlee Marie Preston posted on social media calling on celebrities and public figures to stand in solidarity with the employees, especially trans employees.
“We shouldn’t have to show up quarterly/annually to push back against harmful content that negatively impacts vulnerable communities,” Preston said in the post. “Instead, we aim to use this moment to shift the social ecology around what Netflix leadership deems ethical entertainment, while establishing policies and guidelines that protect employees and consumers, alike.”
LGBTQ+ celebrities such as Elliot Page, Lilly Wachowski, and Billy Eichner voiced their support for Wednesday's collective action.
The streaming company’s LGBTQ+ hub Most also supported the walkout.
Other trans and nonbinary celebrities showed support by appearing in a video that Preston released before the walkout.
Hours before the scheduled walkout at 10:30 a.m. Pacific, Netflix released a statement that said the company respected the right of employees to participate in Wednesday's action.
“We value our trans colleagues and allies, and understand the deep hurt that’s been caused,” Netflix said, according to Fox Business. “We respect the decision of any employee who chooses to walk out, and recognize we have much more work to do both within Netflix and in our content.”
Netflix’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos initially doubled down on defending Chappelle and the special. In a memo to staff he wrote, “While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”
When asked to clarify what he considers to be hate speech, Sarandos said he’s trying to take creative freedom and artistic expression into consideration, but he draws the line at “something that would intentionally call for physically harming other people or even remove protections,” adding, “For me, intent to cause physical harm crosses the line, for sure.” Under this definition, he doesn’t believe The Closer qualifies as hate speech.