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Netflix workers stage walk-out over Chappelle transgender comments

Group of employees planning to present CEO Ted Sarandos with 'list of asks'

Supporters and counter protesters attend a rally in front of Netflix's Los Angeles offices Wednesday as a group of Netflix employees staged a walkout to protest the streaming platform's recent comedy special from Dave Chappelle, which they say ridicules trans people.

Supporters and counter protesters attend a rally in front of Netflix's Los Angeles offices Wednesday as a group of Netflix employees staged a walkout to protest the streaming platform's recent comedy special from Dave Chappelle, which they say ridicules trans people.

Photo: (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

RCI

Netflix employees are staging a walk-out on Wednesday in an unprecedented show of defiance to protest the streaming giant's decision to release comedian Dave Chappelle's controversial new comedy special, which they say ridicules trans people.

A group of employees calling itself Team Trans* has scheduled a rally outside Netflix Inc.'s 13-storey Sunset Boulevard offices in Los Angeles, where activists, public figures and other supporters plan to present the company's CEO and chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, with a list of asks.

We shouldn't have to show up quarterly/annually to push back against harmful content that negatively impacts vulnerable communities, organizer Ashlee Marie Preston wrote in a social media post. Instead, we aim to use this moment to shift the social ecology around what Netflix leadership deems ethical entertainment.

While such demonstrations have become common in Silicon Valley, where employees of Facebook and Google have engaged in open protests to draw attention to corporate policies, this is believed to be a first for the pioneer streaming video company.

CEO's memo stokes backlash

Dave Chappelle, seen at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2018, is under fire for comments he made about trans people in his recent Netflix comedy special, The Closer.

Dave Chappelle, seen at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2018, is under fire for comments he made about trans people in his recent Netflix comedy special, The Closer.

Photo: (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Even as it posted record subscriber numbers (new window) Tuesday, propelled by the global popularity of South Korean thriller series Squid Game, Netflix faces internal dissent over its handling of Chappelle's stand-up show The Closer.

Sarandos stoked further backlash with an Oct. 11 staff memo in which he acknowledged Chappelle's provocative language but said it didn't cross the line into inciting violence. We have a strong belief that content on screen doesn't translate to real-world harm.

Hours before the walkout on Wednesday morning, a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement (new window): 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.

It is not the first time Netflix has drawn fire for boundary-pushing content. The coming-of-age story Cuties was accused of hypersexualizing young girls, and the teen suicide drama 13 Reasons Why was blamed for a rise (new window) in teen suicides.

The controversy of The Closer is playing out against the backdrop of a company-wide diversity effort that began in 2018, after Netflix's former head of communications was fired for using a racial epithet in company meetings while discussing offensive language in comedy.

The stated goal, according to an inclusion report published in January, is to create a workplace where employees feel like they have a home here. That they belong.

It doesn't feel good to have been working at the company that put that out there, Terra Field, a software engineer at Netflix, wrote (new window) in a Medium post. "Especially when we've spent years building out the company's policies and benefits so that it would be a great place for trans people to work."

Thomson Reuters

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