Netflix suspended a trans worker who posted about Dave Chappelle's comedy special The Closer. Chappelle doubles down his jokes about LGBTQ people in the stand-up comedy set, which was released October 5th.
Terra Field, a Netflix software engineer, tweeted about Chappelle the next day. She wrote that the comedian attacked the trans community and the validity of transness in special:
@netflix is where I work. Yesterday, we launched another Chappelle special in which he attacks trans people and their validity - while also trying to pit us against other marginalized group. There will be a lot of discussion about "offense".
Terra Fied (@RainofTerra), October 7, 2021 - We are not offended
The tweet went viral and quickly became a discussion about cancel culture and free speech. Field was then fired by Netflix along with two other employees, for attending a meeting at the director level that they were not invited to. Another trans employee quit the company because of the way Field's comments and the special were handled.
A Netflix spokesperson stated that Field was not suspended for tweeting in a statement sent to The Verge. They stated that it is false to claim that any employee was suspended for tweeting about the show. We encourage employees to express their opinions and support them in doing so.
Netflix has been a bit polarized by the special. (Disclosure: The Verge will be producing a new show for Netflix. Employees began asking questions shortly after the special was released. They wanted to know if trans people were included in making the decision to air it and where the company draws the line between commentary or transphobia.
According to a current employee, we provide a platform that allows for the distribution of content that is detrimental to the trans community. These decisions have a significant impact on our business. They also affect our current employees. We are losing talent. How are we going to fix this particular situation? The Verge did not ask for the special to be removed.
A carbon offset cannot be used to combat bigotry
Ted Sarandos, Netflix's co-CEO, responded to the questions via an internal email on October 8. He wrote that it is never good to see colleagues hurt, and that it doesn't feel good. It is possible that talent could join other parties to ask us to cancel the show. We are not going to do this.
Sarandos stated that Chappelle's last special, Sticks & Stones was Netflix's most watched and stickiest stand-up special.
Many of you also asked us where we draw our line on hate. Netflix does not allow any titles that incite hatred or violence. The Closer isn't considered to be crossing that line. It is difficult to distinguish between harm and commentary, especially when stand-up comedy exists to push boundaries. Stand-up comedy can be viewed as mean-spirited by some people, but it is a part of our content offering.
According to a current employee, the trans employee resource group at Netflix met with executives for many years to educate them on the effects of transphobic content. Netflix purchased the film Girl about a 15-year-old girl ballet dancer who is preparing for gender confirmation surgery. This sparked internal discussions about cisgender directors creating content that addresses trans people.
Sarandos stated that the company's commitment to inclusion can be seen in titles such as Sex Education or Disclosure, which are documentary about Hollywoods effect on the trans community. One current employee told The Verge that they weren't influenced by this statement. They said that you can't offset carbon for bigotry. Sam Feder, the Disclosure director, tweeted that Netflix had rented [the documentary] at half the cost of making it.
Netflix has a long relationship with Dave Chappelle. The comedian signed a deal in 2016 to produce three specials on the streaming service. Netflix removed Chappelles Show from its streaming service four years later at the comedians' request. It then restored it in 2021, after Chappelles feud with Comedy Central had ended.
While the comedy's previous specials were controversial, Chappelles latest has drawn a stronger response. GLAAD has criticised The Closer, writing on Twitter that Dave Chappelles' brand has become synonymous for ridiculing trans people. The National Black Justice Coalition stated: Perpetuating violence perpetuates transphobia. Netflix should immediately remove The Closer and apologize directly to the transgender community.
Read Ted Sarandos full email below:
Directors/Estaff: I want to follow up on The Closer, Dave Chappelles latest special. Many of you reached out to me following QBR to ask what to say to the teams. It's never good to see people hurting, especially colleagues. I wanted to provide some context. It is possible that talent could join third parties to ask us to cancel the show. We are not going to do this. We have a long-standing agreement with Chappelle, who is one of today's most beloved stand-up comedians. Sticks & Stones is also controversial and our most watched, most stickiest, most award-winning stand-up special. We support our talent as well as their creativity. This means that there will always be content on Netflix that people find harmful, such Cuties, 365 Days and 13 Reasons Why. Many of you also asked us where we draw the line regarding hate. Netflix does not allow any titles that incite hatred or violence. The Closer isn't considered to be crossing that line. It is difficult to distinguish between harm and commentary, especially when stand-up comedy exists to push boundaries. While some people find stand-up comedy to be mean-spirited, many of our members love it and consider it an important part our content offering. We are committed to inclusion and we work hard to make sure that more people see their lives on screen. We are proud to have titles such as Sex Education and Young Royals, Control Z, Disclosure, and other related programs. Externally, especially in stand-up comedy and stand-up comedy is clearly a different standard of speech than what we allow internally. The goals are different: to entertain people or maintain a productive, respectful workplace. The conversation today on Entertain the World was very timely. These are difficult and challenging issues. Each of us has different perspectives and values so we appreciate your participation in the discussion. It is important that we are clear about our operating principles. -Ted
Updated October 11, 2013, 1:30 PM ET: A statement has been added by Netflix to this story.