The fallout from Dave Chappelle’s harsh words about trans and LGBTQ+ communities in his Netflix special The Closer crested Wednesday with a walkout and rally that saw more than 100 protesters and allies attend, and present their “list of asks” to the company in the wake of the controversy.
B. Pagels-Minor, the Netflix employee fired last week from the streamer for allegedly leaking financial information to the media about Chappelle’s comedy special, was among those participating at the company’s Vine Street offices near its Sunset Boulevard headquarters. “I want my child to grow up in a world where they see that their parent, a Black, trans person — because I exist, contrary to what the special says, contrary to what many people say — that I’m valued, and I’m an important person,” the former program manager told the crowd today, to cheers.
Pagels-Minor later told Deadline on the sidelines of the rally that they did not leak information to the media, despite what Netflix insists.
“I compiled a series of data, I’m a data person, and I shared it with a lot of people internally,” Pagels-Minor said. “If they’re going to fire me, they’re going to have to fire a lot of people,” the former staffer added, noting that they were never directly informed as part of their employment contract about what they could and could not distribute.
They said they had no current plans to take legal action.
Filmmaker Ashlee Marie Preston, who organized today’s rally, was also among the speakers along with Transparent creator Joey Soloway and RuPaul’s Drag Race star Eureka O’Hara at the event, which comes two weeks after the launch of Chappelle’s The Closer and the subsequent fallout.
“Dave Chappelle doesn’t get to take the light from this moment,” Preston told the rally crowd, adding that organizers reached out to Chappelle but were rebuffed. Other speakers called on the cheering crowd to cancel their Netflix subscriptions.
“Trans people are in the middle of a Holocaust,” Soloway told the crowd, adding, “Misogyny is gender violence” and calling out Chappelle directly.
Soloway also demanded that a trans person be placed on “the Netflix f*cking board.” Preston said at the rally that organizers planned to call out board members if there is not a change towards “equity” and “leadership options.”
At one point early in the walkout, a Chappelle supporter tried to crash the speakers at the mic. Later, there was pushing and shoving after another Chappelle fan, carrying a sign that said “Dave is funny,” tried to push over people to get to the front.
One protesting Netflix staffer said “I’m sorry, I can’t speak to you” when approached by Deadline.
Organizers read read out a “list of asks” that will be presented to Netflix’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos. Here they are:
Asks for Trans* Walkout – 10/20/21
- Eliminate references/imagery of Chappelle inside of the workplace, including but not limited to murals, posters, room names, swag;
- Acknowledgement that the special causes harm to the trans community and Netflix’s responsibility on it so we keep the conversation around transphobia evolving internally;
- Trans and non-binary content investment
* A new fund to specifically develop trans and non-binary talent
*This fund should support both above-the-line (ATL) and below-the-line (BTL) talent
*This fund should exist in addition to the existing Creative Equality Fund
- Investment in trans or non-binary content on Netflix comparable to our total investment in transphobic content, including comparable investment in the promotion of content
- The comparable class of investments should include but not be limited to works produced by Dave Chappelle (such as the investment in “The Closer” and “Sticks and Stones”), Ricky Gervais’ After Life, etc.
- Investment in multiple trans creators to make both scripted and unscripted programs across genres;
- Revisit internal processes on commissioning and/or releasing potential harmful content, involving numerous and diverse parties that can speak on its harm, including consultation on 3rd party venders;
- Revisit the ERG role in conversations around potential harmful content and develop materials to ensure we have the best in class regional support on complicated diversity issues
- Hire transgender content executives in leading positions and promote and inclusive environment for them;
- Recruit trans people for leadership roles in the company (director, VP, etc) and promote and inclusive environment for them;
- The ability for Trans* employees and allies to be able to remove themselves from company promotional content (e.g. allyship videos, etc.);
- A disclaimer before The Closer specifically saying it contains transphobic language, misogyny, homophobia, and hate speech;
- Boost promotion for Disclosure and other trans-affirming titles in the platform
*Suggest such content alongside and after content flagged as anti-trans
“The difference between tokenism and opportunity is the ability to access one’s voice,” Preston told Deadline today ahead of the rally, emphasizing the need for “economic justice.”
Elliot Page and Lilly Wachowski meanwhile took to social media to offer support for the walkout and retweet a PSA that includes Preston, Jonathan Van Ness, Angelica Ross, Jameela Jamil, Mason Alexander Park, Kate Bornstein, Our Lady J, Sara Ramirez, Peppermint and Colton Haynes.
Here it is:
Even the official Netflix Twitter feed for “LGBTQ+ storytelling” took to the Hollywood streets today.
brb walking out
— Most (@Most) October 20, 2021
Netflix brass like co-CEO Ted Sarandos initially defended the Chappelle special against claims of transphobia and hate speech, saying it did not “cross the line” on hate speech even as trans staffers, past and present, and organizations such as GLAAD and National Black Justice Coalition condemned Chappelle’s comments and the streamer’s embrace of the superstar comedian’s remarks.
Another Netflix superstar, Hannah Gadsby, cut straight to the chase and cause on October 15 in response to the corporate reaction, or lack thereof. “You didn’t pay me nearly enough to deal with the real world consequences of the hate speech dog whistling you refuse to acknowledge, Ted,” wrote Gadsby on social media last week. “F**k you and your amoral algorithm cult…”
As well as rare public hot water, the controversy has seen a crisis of culture within the streamer and resulted in temporary suspensions, at least one firing and a sense of betrayal among some employees.
On Tuesday, after the all-important quarterly earnings report came out, Sarandos reached out to the media with some clearly well-rehearsed lines in the hopes of defusing the situation – which is one of the first times Netflix has felt a backlash of any sort since it became the dominant force in Hollywood.
“I screwed up the internal communication — and I don’t mean just mechanically,” he said. “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 upfront 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.”
In contrast to Sarandos, fellow co-CEO Reed Hastings hasn’t retreated an inch over the Chappelle controversy or the disclosure of financial information the past few weeks.
On October 18, Hastings steadfastly refused to discuss either matters during an appearance on philanthropy at the well-heeled Milken Conference While silence is his public face, an infuriated Hastings is the primary force behind stomping out any leaks of internal Netflix discussion, financial information of payments to talent like Chappelle (who got over $24 million for The Closer) and more, we’ve heard.
To that end, staffers who are participating in today’s trans walk-out have been told they can exercise their right to protest, but they are under no circumstances to knowingly talk to the press — even while on the streets of Hollywood on Wednesday morning
In fact, any edict has gone out to units within the streamer that anyone who leaks will fired immediately, as occurred to the staffer who revealed details to Bloomberg last week. More so, the company is indicating it will strictly enforce NDAs, including court action, a number of sources tell us
Publicly, the streamer is putting on a much more benign face.
“We value our trans colleagues and allies, and understand the deep hurt that’s been caused,” a Netflix spokesperson said Wednesday before the walk out. “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.”
And the staffers on the street agree.