In the Chapelle controversy, a new complaint has been filed against Netflix.
Following the release of comedian Dave Chappelle’s standup special, “The Closer,” which has been criticised for its extensive material about transgender people, Netflix has found itself at the centre of a cultural controversy over the past month. The trans community and allies are outraged by Chappelle’s comparison of trans identity to blackface, as well as its portrayal of trans people as predominantly white. A group of trans employees at Netflix have spent a significant amount of time and energy pleading with the streaming giant to consider the potential for real-world harm that may result from the platforming of such speech, no matter how amusing it may be.
Netflix, for its part, has reaffirmed its decision to air the special, with CEO Ted Sarandos issuing two memos in which he defended the streamer’s relationship with Chappelle, stating, “Content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.” While Sarandos eventually backpedaled, and admitted to The Hollywood Reporter that the potential for harm does exist, he reaffirmed his position, saying his stance hasn’t changed, but that he “screwed up those communications.”
The situation has been complicated further by what trans Netflix employees perceive to be a hostile relationship between themselves and higher-ups at Netflix. Terra Field, an employee, was suspended after she expressed her dissatisfaction with the special on social media and attended an executive meeting. When one of the company’s employees, B. Pagels-Minor, leaked information about the financial aspects of Chappelle’s Netflix deal to the press, he was fired (via The Verge).
A new complaint has been filed against Netflix, formalising some of the angst surrounding “The Closer.”
A former Netflix employee has filed a labour complaint against the streaming service.
B. Pagels-Minor and Terra Fields, two Netflix employees who were fired and suspended in response to their actions in protest of the streaming giant’s decision to air Dave Chappelle’s special, “The Closer,” have filed a labour charge against the streaming giant with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), alleging retaliatory behaviour (via The Verge). Pagels-Minor, a Black trans manager, was fired after organising an employee walkout to protest the special in mid-October, while Fields, a trans software engineer, was suspended after posting a viral Twitter thread about the controversy (though Netflix claims she was suspended for attending a director-level meeting).
The complaint claims that Netflix fired or suspended Pagels-Minor and Fields for engaging in what they claim is protected activity, claiming that Netflix “engaged in the above activity to quell employees from speaking up about working conditions including, but not limited to, seeking to create a safe and affirming work environment for Netflix employees, speaking up about Netflix’s products and the impact of its product choices on the LGBTQ+ community.” CEO Ted Sarandos is named in the complaint as the employee representative against whom the complaint is directed.
The Chappelle special has become a flashpoint in the uphill battle faced by trans people as they fight for equal treatment within society and under the law, and it highlights an increasing willingness on the part of American workers to stand up to what they perceive to be unfair working conditions. For many people, this is about much more than just comedy.