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Netflix employees stage walkout over Dave Chappelle special

Hundreds of Netflix employees walked out of work in protest of the streaming platform's controversial Dave Chappelle special. The workers, who are organized by "Team Trans," believe the special is transphobic and are calling for Netflix to commit to releasing more "intersectional" content.

Protestors streamed from the company's Sunset Boulevard building around 10 a.m Wednesday, where they held a rally to "underscore the importance of responsible content offerings that prioritize the safety and dignity of all marginalized communities," according to organizers. The employees walking out included Netflix's "Most" Team — a social team dedicated to the company's LGBTQ+ content. 

"Dave Chappelle doesn't get to suck the joy out of this moment. This is a moment where we are coming together in a unified effort," activist Ashlee Marie Preston said at Wednesday's rally. "This is a moment where we understand that it's one for all and all for one and we won't stop until justice is brought." 

The protest comes after extreme unrest at the streaming giant, with several employees and actors speaking out against Netflix and other employees claiming they were suspended for criticizing Chappelle's special on social media. The company said none of its employees were terminated or reprimanded for their comments and maintains all employees are entitled to their own opinions. 

Netflix walkout
Netflix employees and activists outside a Netflix location in Hollywood on October 20, 2021. Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty

While some protestors have called for the special to be removed, others believe it would cause more harm than good. Team Trans is instead pushing for a new content warning to be displayed on content that could be considered transphobic.

"At this point, the special has likely been watched by the majority of people who will ever watch it," said Terra Field, a Netflix software engineer and vice president of Team Trans. "If you take a piece of media down when it has already been available for a while, that tends to just drive more interest in it as it becomes taboo."

"We feel our time and energy is better spent pushing for a content warning for all transphobic content, and focusing on creating new opportunities for queer and trans creators."

Field, who walked out with Netflix employees, said the group is currently working with "executive allies in the company" to keep positive momentum from the walkout going, but no additional walkouts have been discussed. 

Chappelle's special "The Closer" premiered on October 5 and featured several jokes focused on transgendered individuals. 

"Gender is a fact. Every human being in this room, every human being on earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on earth," Chappelle said. The comedian also made several seemingly derogatory comments about the genitals of transgender women and said he previously punched a lesbian in a nightclub.

Netflix walkout
People rally in support of the Netflix transgender walkout in Los Angeles, California on October 20, 2021. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty

The special drew intense criticism from the LGBTQ+ community, which accused the show of targeting transgender people and potentially inciting violence against the community. Netflix maintained that Chappelle's words did not cross "the line on hate" and would remain available on the streaming service. 

"We value our trans colleagues and allies, and understand the deep hurt that's been caused," a Netflix spokesperson told CBS Los Angeles. "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."

On Monday, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said that he mishandled the controversy by not communicating better with his employees and detractors. 

"Obviously, I screwed up that internal communication," Sarandos told Variety. "I did that, and I screwed it up in two ways. First and foremost, 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 upfront before you get into the nuts and bolts of anything. I didn't do that."

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