Transgender Netflix Employees Plan Walkout Over Dave Chappelle Special — Why This Matters

Transgender employees at Netflix are planning a company-wide walkout on October 20 to protest statements about the Dave Chappelle comedy special "The Closer" made by co-CEO Ted Sarandos. Chappelle's new special doubles down on his previous transphobic work, and sparked a significant amount of justified outrage

Netflix came under additional heat when they suspended three employees for "crashing" a meeting about how to handle the situation. One of the three, trans software engineer Terra Field, had tweeted a long thread criticizing the special, though Netflix denied that had anything to do with her suspension. She has since been reinstated, but the trans employee resource group at Netflix is going ahead with the walkout.

A leader of the employee trans rights group wrote in an internal email:

"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!"

It's Not 'Just a Joke'

It's important for comedians to be able to say what they want, but that doesn't necessarily mean they should be given a platform. Netflix has come under fire because this isn't the first time Chappelle has been openly transphobic, though this time is certainly more egregious. The special also features some serious anti-Semitism, which is less shocking and more frustratingly eye-rolling than anything. 

To the "It's just a joke!" crowd: it's not just a joke when humor that's hateful to a marginalized group is given a huge stage. 2021 is on track to become the deadliest year on record for transgender people, who are four times more likely to be a victim of violence than a cisgender person. Anti-Semitic violence and harassment are also on the rise, and activist Sasha Goodman explained in a lengthy Twitter thread just why Chappelle's comments are dangerous. 

Both Chappelle's transphobic and anti-Semitic jokes rely on "othering" — pointing out differences between cultures or people as humor. In both instances he tries to make it seem like he's "punching up," going after powerful people who happen to belong to marginalized groups. Caitlyn Jenner is a perfect punching bag for lazy comedians because she's easy to other, and she's rich and powerful, so no one can really say it's going to hurt her, right?

Regardless of Jenner's feelings on the matter, those jokes hurt everyone who shares in the othering — those who aren't rich and famous and powerful, but are transgender and feeling increasingly afraid and loathed. When they hear Chappelle support Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism (TERF) ideology, it's another reminder that they're living in a world full of people who want them dead. This isn't a matter of being "offended," it's a matter of being told your mere existence is offensive to everyone else. 

So What Now?

I'm going to pull back the curtain a little bit. I'm a non-binary person who used to absolutely adore the work of Chappelle. My husband and I still have every season of "Chappelle's Show" on home video, and the Prince pancakes bit gets me every time. Watching his descent into bitter old man over the past 15 years has been something of a tragedy. While it's hard to blame him for some of that bitterness, given his long-running dispute with Comedy Central — the network that helped herald in his rise to fame — turning his rage against other marginalized people seems counter-productive. Why not use some of that fire to go after the wealthy, elitist 1% that keep everyone down, instead of attacking the most vulnerable targets around? Oh, right, because they sign your paychecks. 

I don't want Chappelle "canceled." I don't even really care if the special is pulled from Netflix or not, though a disclaimer at the beginning couldn't hurt. Both Sarandos and Chappelle need to take some time to reflect and learn about the impact of their words. Both owe a lot of people apologies that will likely never happen. 

My hope is that this whole ordeal helps other comedians reflect on their own work and be better. If you can't elicit laughs without using a marginalized group as a scapegoat, you aren't actually funny, you're just kind of lazy. 

The Netflix walkout will take place on October 20, 2021. Some protestors are also boycotting the streaming service for the day. Others are cancelling their Netflix subscriptions altogether and taking their money to streamers who don't double down on bigoted beliefs.