Amid cheers and chants of “Team trans!,” dozens of Netflix employees walked out of a company office building in Los Angeles today, protesting a recent Dave Chappelle stand-up special in one of the most visible signs of worker unrest in the history of the streaming service.
Critics inside and outside the company have said that Chappelle’s show, “The Closer,” promotes bigotry against transgender people. The protest put the tech company directly at the center of broader cultural debates about transphobia, free speech and employee activism. Throughout the day, #NetflixWalkOut was a top trending topic on Twitter.
Carrying signs that read “Hey Netflix: Do Better” and “Transphobia Is Not a Joke,” the employees joined more than 100 supporters and activists who had begun rallying a couple of hours before. There was also a small group of counterprotesters chanting, “Jokes are funny.”
Joey Soloway, the creator of the Amazon Prime comedy series “Transparent,” urged Netflix executives to add a transgender person to its corporate board “this week,” and the entertainment industry as a whole to begin hiring significantly more transgender people.
B. Pagels-Minor, who is transgender and was fired last week from their job as a program manager at Netflix, read a list of demands that employees had for the company. They included hiring of more transgender people and including warning labels for content that is criticized for being transphobic. Netflix has said Pagels-Minor was fired for sharing sensitive documents outside the company; a lawyer for the former employee denied that her client shared information with the news media.
In addition to the scene in Los Angeles, many Netflix staffers working remotely shut their laptops and called off work for the day at noon.
One employee, Gabrielle Korn, wrote on Twitter: “We aren’t fighting WITH Netflix. We’re fighting FOR Netflix. We all know how great it can be and that it’s not there yet.”
Amid the rolling public relations crisis, Netflix executives have begun to adopt a conciliatory tone while still remaining supportive of Chappelle.
Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s co-CEO, gave several interviews Tuesday in which he said that he had “screwed up” communication with employees after the outcry over Chappelle’s special and that he should have discussed the controversy with more “humanity.” Sarandos also conceded that shows, series and movies on Netflix did have an impact on the real world, something he denied in an initial statement.
Similarly, hours before today’s protest, the company said in a statement that it supported the walkout.
“We value our trans colleagues and allies and understand the deep hurt that’s been caused,” Netflix 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.”