On Wednesday, trans, non-binary, LGBTQ+ employees of Netflix and allies walked out in protest of their employer’s mishandling of the backlash following the release of Dave Chappelle’s latest comedy special, The Closer.
According to Variety, those employees and allies were met with counter-protesters bearing signs that read “Jokes Are Funny,” and “Netflix Don’t Cancel Free Speech,” while those in support of the walkout marched with “Trans Lives Matter” and “Transphobia is Not a Joke” signs.
At one point, activist and 2017 The Root 100 honoree Ashlee Marie Preston, who helped organize the protest, thanked those who showed up to lend their voices and support:
“I thank all of you for being here in support of the employees at Netflix of trans and non-binary experience and their allies and accomplices.I think the message that many people expect for us to deliver today is one around ‘why it’s important to cancel Dave Chappelle.’ And so I want to make it very clear, this isn’t an instance of cancel culture because I’ve invited Dave Chappelle to have transformative dialogue with us on multiple occasions and he has made it clear that it is not of interest to him. So just to be clear, this isn’t cancel culture but an avoidance of accountability when we’ve invited you to be a part of the repair that it takes to not only hear a culture, but to move all of us forward.”
She later added, “We’re up against the emergence of hate economy. And there is this manipulation of algorithmic science that distorts the way that we perceive ourselves and others. And I think that companies like Netflix, Facebook, and Instagram, they play into it, and they monetize on it. And so I think that this is important to show up today.”
A counter-protester who was present as a “supporter of comedy” explained: “We are protesting this walkout. They have the right to do it, but we have the right to stand up for Dave Chappelle and his freedom of expression. This boils down to equality, and if people want equality they [have] to be put on the same level as anybody else. Comedians are equal opportunity destroyers. You can’t pick and choose who you’re going to make fun of.”
In addition to the walkout, those same employees and allies provided the streamer with a firm list of demands via a press release obtained by The Verge, which centered around actionable steps towards “content investment, employee relations and safety, and harm reduction.”
Significantly, a demand to pull the special off of the streaming giant was not included on that list.
“We are employees, but we are members, too. 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 Trans* ERG [Employee Resource Group] looks forward to working with the Company to make this a better, more entertaining place for us all,” the document concluded.
Moreover, at the same time the protest was taking place, Chappelle himself was performing the last leg of his weeklong U.K. tour at London’s Eventim Apollo theater. While no cellphones, cameras or recording devices were allowed, many in attendance confirmed to Variety that the comedian mentioned he would plan a 10-city U.S. tour should The Closer be removed from Netflix, though as previously stated, there are no plans to do so at this time.
Ahead of the protest, Netflix shared a statement in support of its employees and allies, saying: “We value our trans colleagues and allies, and understand the deep hurt that’s been caused. 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.”