Transgender-rights activists squared off against Dave Chappelle fans and free-speech advocates at a tense rally outside Netflix’s California offices on Wednesday, the latest fallout from the comedian’s controversial Netflix special “The Closer.”
The rally, which garnered roughly one to two hundred people, kicked off with chants of “Trans Lives Matter” and “Transphobia is no joke.” But the protesting Netflix employees, who announced their walkout last week, soon clashed with another contingent chanting, “We Like Jokes,” with some carrying signs bearing slogans like “Jokes are Funny” and “We Like Dave.”
Past the sign-toting mob, employees calling themselves “Team Trans” gathered on Vine Street at Netflix’s 600,000-square foot campus in Hollywood where they gave speeches charging that Chappelle’s special ridiculed transgender people, saying they planned to present chief content officer Ted Sarandos with a “list of asks.”
Ashlee Preston Murray, a black trans woman who organized the rally, kicked off the event, saying that she was speaking out because Netflix employees have been “gagged” by “higher ups” at the company. She claimed she had invited Chappelle to speak but was turned down.
“This isn’t an instance of cancel culture because I’ve invited Dave Chappelle to have a dialogue with us,” Murray said. “I’m here today to talk to the people who signed the check.”
Murray and other speakers added that Chappelle’s jokes harmed the trans community and could potentially incite violence.
“As it pertains to jokes, no one gets to access experiences that don’t belong to them,” Murray said.
Meanwhile another protester at the event who identified herself as Gigi LaRoux, defended Chappelle and Netflix, according to Variety.
“This boils down to equality, and if people want equality they to be put on the same level as anybody else. Comedians are equal opportunity destroyers. You cant pick and choose who you’re going to make fun of.“
In the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s walkout, Netflix faced mounting criticism from celebrities and employees inside the company amid suspensions and statements from the company defending Chappelle’s “creative freedom.”
On the eve of the protest, Sarandos admitted he “screwed up” his response to the fallout.
“What I should have led with in those emails was humanity,” Sarandos told The Wall Street Journal Tuesday evening. “I should have recognized the fact that a group of our employees was really hurting.”
Earlier Wednesday, Netflix sought to strike a more conciliatory tone in response to the walkout.
“We value our trans colleagues and allies, and understand the deep hurt that’s been caused,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement. “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.”
Netflix, however, has yet to respond to “Team Trans’” list of walkout demands, which asks the streaming giant to set aside a fund supporting trans and nonbinary talent and to attach a disclaimer to “The Closer” saying it “contains transphobic language, misogyny, homophobia, and hate speech,” among other requests.