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Hundreds of protesters arrived at Netflix’s Vine Street office on Wednesday morning for a rally to support the streamer’s trans employees, who began a virtual walkout to push back against Netflix co-CEO and chief content officer Ted Sarandos’ handling of Dave Chappelle’s latest comedy special, The Closer.
During the virtual walkout, the participating staffers will not do any work for Netflix and instead engage in content that supports the trans community and donate to charities. The walkout coincides with a public rally, organized by the activist Ashlee Marie Preston, that relocated to Netflix’s office on Vine Street to accommodate more people.
B. Pagels-Minor, the former Netflix staffer who was fired last week for allegedly leaking confidential information on the Chappelle special, appeared at the rally to support the walkout. (Pagels-Minor has denied leaking sensitive information.)
“As most of you know, I’m 33 weeks pregnant. And when I thought about why I was participating in, it’s that my son does not grow up with content that hates me,” Pagels-Minor said. “I want my child to grow up in a world where they see that their parent, a Black trans person — because I exist, contrary to what the special says, contrary to what many people say — that I am valued, and I am an important person as well.”
Pagels-Minor, a former leader of the Netflix Trans* employee resource group, then read out the letter of asks to Sarandos from the employee group. Included in the list were requests that Netflix create a fund for nonbinary and trans talent, revise internal processes for reviewing potentially harmful content, add disclaimers on shows with transphobic content, and acknowledge the harm Netflix has caused to the trans community — particularly the Black trans community. Other requests included creating a fund for trans and nonbinary talent both above and below the line, increasing the Trans* employee resource group’s involvement in conversations about potentially harmful content, and recruiting trans, especially trans BIPOC, people for executive positions at Netflix.
“We are employees, but we are members, too,” Pagels-Minor said, reading out the letter. “We believe that this Company can and must do better in our quest to entertain the world, and that the way forward must include more diverse voices in order to avoid causing more harm.”
The rally drew in supporters of the trans Netflix employees as well as those in support of Chappelle, but demonstrators who spoke with THR urged Netflix to listen to its trans employees and honor their requests.
“It’s important that Netflix listen to its employees. I’m here in solidarity with them,” Lily Weaver, an attendee not affiliated with Netflix who is trans, told THR. “None of us are free until all of us are.”
Joey Soloway, the creator of Transparent, said they wanted to see a trans person on Netflix’s board and described Chappelle’s transphobic comments in The Closer as “infinitely amplified gender violence.”
“This is gender violence. Sharing his outrage as comedic humiliation in front of thousands of people, and then broadcasting it to hundreds of millions of people, is infinitely amplified gender violence,” Soloway said. “I want trans representation on the Netflix board. A trans person on the f-ing Netflix board this fucking week.”
Preston, the rally organizer, said the gathering was meant to show solidarity with Netflix’s trans staffers. “It’s violent to make members of the transgender community who work for your company participate in the oppression of their own community, and we’re here to disrupt that and stand in solidarity with the employees,” Preston said.
Talent like Jonathan Van Ness, Angelica Ross, Jameela Jamil and Colton Haynes also participated in a video, released on Wednesday ahead of the rally, to show their support for Netflix’s trans staffers. On Twitter, Elliot Page said he supported trans, nonbinary and BIPOC employees “fighting for more and better trans stories and a more inclusive workplace.” And Dan Levy, who has a multiyear film and TV deal with Netflix, shared a statement on Twitter about TV’s influence on cultural conversations, both positive and negative. “Transphobia is unacceptable and harmful,” Levy wrote. “That isn’t a debate.”
But speaking with The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday evening, Sarandos said he still supports keeping the Chappelle special on Netflix and doesn’t believe it would be “appropriate” to add a disclaimer to the show flagging potentially harmful comments.
“When we think about this challenge we have to entertain the world, part of that challenge means that you’ve got audiences with various taste, various sensibilities, various beliefs. You really can’t please everybody or the content would be pretty dull,” Sarandos said. “I do think that the inclusion of the special on Netflix is consistent with our comedy offering, it’s consistent with Dave Chappelle’s comedy brand, and this is … one of those times when there’s something on Netflix that you’re not going to like.”
Ahead of the walkout, Netflix also issued a statement to acknowledge the “deep hurt that’s been caused.”
“We value our trans colleagues and allies, and understand the deep hurt that’s been caused,” a Netflix spokesperson said. “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.”
At today’s Netflix walkout, where “trans lives matter” chants are going up against Chappelle supporters shouting “I like jokes” pic.twitter.com/eX1qHgdj7R
— Kirsten Chuba (@KirstenChuba) October 20, 2021
Joey Soloway has joined the rally pic.twitter.com/QAxAAOcHkg
— Kirsten Chuba (@KirstenChuba) October 20, 2021
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