Netflix is experiencing a great deal of turmoil as the company made a bad situation worse by doubling down on a mistake. In the wake of airing comedian Dave Chapelle's controversial special The Closer, the company retaliated against employees calling out the transphobia present in the performance - now, a trans rights group is stepping up.
What initially sparked this storm of controversy and disappointing reaffirmation that major media companies are latched onto outdated, bigoted prejudices at the highest levels was the last of six stand-up comedy specials that Dave Chapelle was contracted to produce for streaming giant Netflix.
The Closer had an underlying theme of transphobia throughout its runtime, during which Chapelle jokingly referred to himself as transphobic, defended author J. K. Rowling and referred to the suicide of a trans comedian.
Many were rightfully disappointed and offended by this insensitive and tone-deaf performance, and The Closer drew swaths of criticism online after being aired - from the ranks of Netflix employees as well, for which one was fired and three suspended. The fired program manager, B. Pagels-Minor, is Black, trans, pregnant and led advocacy groups at the company for both Black and trans staff. The suspended employees were all caucasian.
In protest, trans employees of the company organized a protest which many allies have joined. The walkout was over 100 participants strong, and was followed by the Trans* Employee Resource Group releasing a public list of demands towards Netflix so that the company would become a fairer and more inclusive space for trans and non-binary employees.
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It is important to point out that the rights group is not pushing for the removal of The Closer from the streaming platform - in case any bad-faith onlookers were getting ready to complain about 'cancel culture', you can put the pitchforks away. So far, the only person suffering any tangible fallout is B. Pagels-Minor.
The demands are rather aimed at acknowledging the harm that content such as The Closer causes and can cause - Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos has previously downplayed the negative impact of hate speech - and to promote positive action going forward in support of trans and non-binary content with investments "comparable to our total investment in transphobic content”.
Ted Sarandos has, ever since the beginning of this controversy, held by the stance that The Closer will not be removed from the streaming platform, citing his belief in creative freedom. This stance has not changed, but seeing as Trans* Employee Resource Group isn't seeking such, the company should have no trouble complying with the other demands.
Sarandos has commented on the situation and stated that he “screwed up in two ways” in an interview with Variety. Nonetheless, the CEO is adamant that The Closer isn't yet in hate speech territory - certainly all the trans people who disagree should take his, a cisgender heterosexual white male, word for it.
This isn't the first time Dave Chapelle's Netflix specials have been met with disapproval due to insensitive or offensive content related to the LGBTQ+ community, with one example being him referring to said community as "the alphabet people" in Sticks & Stones.
Even though this is a repeat occurrence and much more blatant this time around, the fact that The Closer's removal isn't among the demands from protestors shows the lack of credibility among those who inevitably have vocally criticized the protests. You know the types.
While Sarandos has stated that he should have "led with a lot more humanity", his comments to Variety came before the demands from Trans* Employee Resource Group went out. The CEO has yet to address those in any capacity.