Hundreds of Netflix employees and their supporters staged a walkout Wednesday in protest of the streaming service’s distribution of a Dave Chappelle comedy special in which the comedian makes a series of trans-phobic remarks.
“We’re here to speak directly to Netflix,” transgender activist Ashlee Marie Preston told reporters at the rally. “We tried to speak to Dave Chappelle, he was not having the conversation. So now we’re here to communicate directly with the people who sign the checks, and also to let Netflix know that we’re not going away.”
Organizers said they wanted to present Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos with a series of employee demands, which included the creation of a fund to help develop trans and nonbinary talent, recruitment of trans executives for leadership roles and the placement of disclaimers on any potentially harmful content on the streaming service.
Organizers also said they wanted the streaming service agree to release more content reflective of the LGBTQ community.
“We are not done. We are not through,” a trans activist known as Neverending Nina told the crowd. “We are here and we are not going anywhere. And so it is our purpose … that we hold these places accountable. Because how can you house queer narratives, queer movies and all the things that uplift us, but then turn around and provide space to harm us? It does not make sense.”
The protest was held outside a Netflix building on Vine Street in Hollywood, beginning at 10:30 a.m. They chanted slogans and carries signs, including some that said “Black trans lives matter.”
A handful of counter-protesters also showed up at the gathering, carrying signs that said “Jokes are funny” and “Dave is funny.” One of those sign-wielding people wandered into the crowd of Netflix protesters and had his sign taken away from him and destroyed.
Protest organizers have blasted the streaming service’s decision to carry the Chappelle special, titled “The Closer.”
Before the protest began, Netflix issued a statement 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.”
Sarandos strongly defended the decision to air the Chappelle special in a series of internal memos, and came under more fire from some employees for his defense of the program. In a series of interviews Tuesday night, he appeared to walk back some of his comments made to employees.
“I screwed up the internal communication, and I don’t mean just mechanically,” he told Deadline. “I feel I should’ve made sure to recognize that a group of our employees was hurting very badly from the decision made, and I should’ve recognized up front before going into a rationalization of anything the pain they were going through. I say that because I respect them deeply, and I love the contribution they have at Netflix. They were hurting, and I should’ve recognized that first.”
He insisted, however, that his stance in support of carrying the Chappelle special hasn’t changed.
“When we think about this challenge we have to entertain the world,” Sarandos told The Hollywood Reporter. “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. And we do tell our employees up front that we are trying to entertain our members, and that some of the content on Netflix you’re not going to like, and so this kind of commitment to artistic expression and free artistic expression is sometimes in conflict with people feeling protected and safe. I do think that that’s something that we struggle with all the time when these two values bump up against each other.
“But 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.”