On Wednesday, Netflix employees stopped work and started protesting outside of the company’s California headquarters with a list of demands.
The walkout is being organized by Netflix’s trans employee resource group and their demands include the company adopting “measures in the areas of content investment, employee relations and safety, and harm reduction, all of which are necessary to avoid future instances of platforming transphobia and hate speech.”
The action is in response to the streaming giant’s handling of employee and activist complaints about a new special called ‘The Closer’ in which comedian Dave Chappelle allegedly made transphobic comments.
The Financial Times reported that Chappelle is believed to mock members of the LGBTQ+ community and declare himself ‘team Terf’, which is a slang term for radical feminists who believe that the sex a person is assigned at birth cannot and shouldn’t be altered.
Despite complaints from employees and activists, Netflix leaders have continued to defend the special.
Ted Sarandos, Netflix co-CEO, wrote in an email, which was obtained by Variety: “While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”
“Adults can watch violence, assault and abuse – or enjoy shocking standup comedy – without it causing them to harm others,” he continued.
The walkout also comes in wake of Netflix temporarily suspending Terra Field, a trans employee, over her tweets about the Chappelle special.
I work at @netflix. Yesterday we launched another Chappelle special where he attacks the trans community, and the very validity of transness – all while trying to pit us against other marginalized groups. You're going to hear a lot of talk about "offense".
We are not offended 🧵
— Terra Field (@RainofTerra) October 7, 2021
The streaming giant also recently fired a trans worker, who was a leader of the trans employee resource group and heavily involved in the walkout. This was based on allegations that they had leaked documents to the press related to the Chappelle special, according to The Verge.
This walkout is an enormous reputational blow for Netflix, which has prided itself on its transparency around pay and financial success, as well as its ability to attract filmmakers from Hollywood with a creative-minded workplace and high salaries.
But this comes as employees in the tech world are no longer afraid to stand up for their colleagues in the face of discrimination. Just look at the work stoppage at Activision Blizzard and the AppleToo movement.
UNLEASH has reached out to Netflix for comment.
Reactions to the walkout
As Netflix employees decided to stage this walkout, Sarandos sat down with Variety to discuss hate speech.
Sarandos admitted he “screwed up that internal communication”. “I should have led with a lot more humanity. Meaning, I had a group of employees who were definitely feeling pain and hurt from a decision we made. And I think that needs to be acknowledged up front before you get into the nuts and bolts of anything. I didn’t do that.
“That was uncharacteristic for me, and it was moving fast and we were trying to answer some really specific questions that were floating. We landed with some things that were much more blanket and matter-of-fact that are not at all accurate.”
But he doubled down on his earlier statements that ‘The Closer’ doesn’t amount to hate speech. “Under the definition of “does it intend to cause physical harm?” I do not believe it falls into hate speech.” This is despite 2020 seeing the highest levels of violence against trans people on record.
Sarandos also noted that the special will remain on the service because “I don’t believe there have been many calls to remove it”.
All the while, celebrities associated with Netflix have shared their support for Netflix employees protesting about the Dave Chappelle special and trans rights at the streaming service.
For instance, award-winning Netflix show Schitt’s Creek creator and actor Daniel Levy tweeted:
— dan levy (@danjlevy) October 20, 2021
While actor Elliot Page, who recently became the first trans man to appear on the cover of Time and stars in Netflix show The Umbrella Academy, also tweeted support for the walkout.
— Elliot Page (@TheElliotPage) October 20, 2021
Writer of Netflix’s Dear White People Jaclyn Moore announced she was done with working with the streaming service, and then tweeted her support for the walkout.
I love so many of the people I've worked with at Netflix. Brilliant people and executives who have been collaborative and fought for important art… But I've been thrown against walls because, "I'm not a 'real' woman." I've had beer bottles thrown at me. So, @Netflix, I'm done. https://t.co/2naqrzW0G2
— Jaclyn Moore (@JaclynPMoore) October 7, 2021
I stand with those participating in the #NetflixWalkout. I'm glad that after multiple dismissive statements Netflix is finally acknowledging they have work to do. I look forward to seeing how those words become actions.
— Jaclyn Moore (@JaclynPMoore) October 20, 2021
Only time will tell how this walkout and Netflix’s future response will affect not only the streaming service’s ability to attract talent, but its user base too. Many Netflix users have taken to twitter threatening to boycott the service unless it does better by trans employees and creators.