There’s no end in sight for Netflix’s Dave Chappelle problem. Days after The Closer, his controversial new comedy special, sparked backlash for jokes targeting the LGBTQ+ community, the company’s response has drawn similar scorn. Netflix has reportedly suspended three employees, including a trans person who publicly condemned Chappelle’s special on Twitter, Variety reported on Monday.
Sources told the outlet that the trio of staffers were suspended not for criticizing the special, but “for crashing a meeting of its top executives” late last week. One of those people, according to Variety, is Terra Field, an openly trans senior software engineer at Netflix, who shared a viral Twitter thread about the dangers of Chappelle’s comments. “What we object to is the harm that content like this does to the trans community (especially trans people of color) and VERY specifically Black trans women,” Field wrote.
Netflix sources reiterated to Variety that there wasn’t any correlation between Field’s tweets and an apparent suspension. “It is absolutely untrue to say that we have suspended any employees for tweeting about this show,” a Netflix spokesperson told Variety. “Our employees are encouraged to disagree openly and we support their right to do so.” (Neither Field nor Netflix responded immediately to requests for comment.)
In a company-wide memo obtained by Variety, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos addressed the discontent surrounding Chappelle’s jokes—and made clear that the special isn’t going anywhere. “It never feels good when people are hurting, especially our colleagues, so I wanted to give you some additional context,” Sarandos’s memo reads. “You should also be aware that some talent may join third parties in asking us to remove the show in the coming days, which we are not going to do.”
The exec went on to compare Chappelle’s “controversial” style to other titles that “some people believe [are] harmful,” including Cuties, 13 Reasons Why, 365 Days, and My Unorthodox Life. Sarandos said that Netflix won’t air projects “that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe The Closer crosses that line.” The memo concludes with the belief that “artistic freedom is obviously a very different standard of speech than we allow internally as the goals are different: entertaining people versus maintaining a respectful, productive workplace.”
Last week, several high-profile people and organizations spoke out against Chappelle’s jokes—including Jaclyn Moore, showrunner on Netflix’s Dear White People, who tweeted that she will cut ties with the company unless something were to change. (Both Moore and Field have alerted their followers to online abuse they’ve faced since speaking out against the Netflix special.) Equality groups GLAAD and the National Black Justice Coalition also released statements opposing Chappelle’s special.
Since the reported suspensions and Sarandos’s statement, others within the Netflix umbrella have added their voices to the conversation. Jonathan Van Ness, a nonbinary cohost of Netflix’s Queer Eye, tweeted on Monday, “The violence and harm perpetuated against Trans, NB & Intersex folks is relentless and people pay with their lives, their livelihoods, and we’re sick of it. It breaks my heart that such important people and platforms continue to ignore that.”
Meanwhile, Most—a verified account branded as “the home of Netflix’s LGBTQ+ storytelling”—tweeted out a message of support for queer and trans people. “This #comingoutday and every day, we support your right to come out however and whenever feels safe and right for you,” the tweet reads. “And that includes using your voice to come out and stand up for your community.”
The man at the center of this firestorm is seemingly reveling in the polarization. Chappelle reportedly earned a standing ovation at a recent Hollywood Bowl screening of his untitled upcoming documentary, where he told the audience: “If this is what being canceled is like, I love it.”
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