Dozens of Netflix employees and LGBTQ supporters walked out of the streaming giant's offices in Hollywood this morning in protest of comedian Dave Chappelle's incendiary new special "The Closer." They were met by a group of Chappelle supporters who carried signs like "jokes are funny" and things quickly turned tense.
At one point, a pro-Chappelle protester shoving his way towards a microphone the activists supporting the Netflix employees had set up was pushed back and there was a brief tussle before several pro-trans activists stood in the way. One of the activists threatened, "I will beat you down." The protester backed off but shortly afterwards got into another confrontation with a pro-trans rally attendee, almost knocking them over before exiting the area.
Counter-protesters showed up at the walkout.Photo by Samson Amore
Chappelle's special debuted on Netflix Oct. 5, and the internal battle at Netflix has been raging since. Several Netflix employees declined to go on the record out of fear of retaliation.
B. Pagels-Minor, a former Netflix programmer and Black, trans and nonbinary person who is 33-weeks pregnant, was one of the original organizers of the walkout alongside transgender activist Ashlee Marie Preston.
Pagels-Minor said they were fired Oct. 14 after being accused of leaking private financial information to Bloomberg. Pagels-Minor denies involvement in the leak and told dot.LA they were fired roughly two and a half hours after the walkout was announced.
"How can you have transphobic content and not have counter-content that specifically shows trans lives," Pagels-Minor questioned. "Like most people, I didn't think it was very funny," Pagels-Minor added. "I'm a black trans person, and Dave Chappelle seems to think those people don't exist."
The walkout organizers' demands include creating a new fund for investing in transgender talent, revising internal policies to determine what content on the streamer is "harmful," and hire more transgender executives.
"Transparent" showrunner Joey Soloway addresses the rally.Photo by Samson Amore
"Trans people are in a Holocaust. But trans people are also out here dreaming of safety, dreaming of time, which is a privilege… time to imagine, create, to write their stories," said Joey Soloway, a showrunner for Amazon's Emmy Award-winning series "Transparent" who attended the rally. "The line is simple: Stop making things worse."
In his new show, Chappelle called himself "Team TERF" (Trans-exclusionary radical feminism), a term that's used for people who, among other things, don't believe transgender women are women. "TERF" is a term that's also been used to describe "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling, whose own anti-transgender missives have caused a stir in recent years. Chappelle was keen to align himself with Rowling in "The Closer" and spent a sizeable portion of his special arguing against transgender people's right to exist, claiming sex and gender are "a fact."
The backlash on social media to Chappelle's comments was swift. Netflix's "Dear White People" showrunner (and transgender woman) Jaclyn Moore tweeted the day after "The Closer" aired that she was leaving the company. "I will not work with them as long as they continue to put out and profit from blatantly and dangerously transphobic content," Moore said. Several other Netflix employees have vocally opposed the special on social media.
LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD criticized the special after it aired and said, "Dave Chappelle's brand has become synonymous with ridiculing trans people and other marginalized communities."
Netflix has addressed the issue – CEO Ted Sarandos made it clear Netflix wouldn't drop "The Closer" from its platform since Chappelle is one of their top performers – and Variety reported last week Sarandos also said the streamer has "a strong belief that content on screen doesn't directly translate to real-world harm."
Chappelle's jokes have targeted transgender people before. Daphne Dornan, a transgender actress living in San Francisco, was the butt of Chappelle's jokes in his past special "Sticks and Stones" and again in "The Closer." Dornan, who was a comedian, died by suicide in October 2019 and left behind a young daughter.
Burbank City Councilmember Konstantin Anthony warned that Netflix's decisions could harm its larger ambitions and echoed support for a boycott.
Netflix recently inked a lease for a 170,000 square foot animation studio in Burbank. Anthony said he'd advocate for the company's transgender employees in the area.
"We don't need millions and millions of dollars backing those words," Anthony said at the rally.
Follow dot.LA reporter Samson Amore's coverage on Twitter @Samsonamore.
This story has been updated to clarify how the tussle unfolded.
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The growth helped Netflix rake in $7.5 billion in revenue during the third quarter of 2021, up 16% from the prior year.
The streaming giant's third quarter revenue roughly matches what analysts expected to see ($7.48 billion), but Netflix exceeded expectations when it came to new subscribers, as analysts anticipated about 3.84 million additions, according to CNBC.
Across the globe, Netflix says 214 million people now pay to watch movies and shows via its service.
As for "Squid Game" specifically, Netflix told investors that about 142 million "member households" watched the show in the first month since its release.
Netflix typically shares the number of accounts that stream its top movies and shows, but later this year the company says it will "shift" to another metric. Netflix plans to measure "engagement as measured by hours viewed," instead of household views, which it claims will be a "slightly better indicator of the overall success."
Netflix shares closed on Tuesday up by a fraction of a percent.
While Netflix enjoys a relative surge of users, tension is mounting inside the company as workers coordinate a walkout over its handling of Dave Chappelle's comedy special, "The Closer."Meantime, crews working behind the scenes in Hollywood have also threatened to walk off sets run by Netflix and other members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers over working conditions and pay. A tentative deal was reached between unionized crew members and major studios over the weekend, however entertainment workers could still reject the agreement in the coming weeks.
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Ratcheting up the stakes in an already tense labor battle, members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) have voted to authorize union President Matthew Loeb to call a strike, the group announced Monday.
The decision could lead to the most significant industry walkout since World War II, should negotiations with a powerful trade group remain deadlocked.
53,411 behind-the-scenes workers in entertainment participated in the vote, and more than 98% of those voters supported the strike authorization, the union announced. "The members have spoken loud and clear," said Loeb in a press release. "This vote is about the quality of life as well as the health and safety of those who work in the film and television industry."
The vote will be used as a bargaining chip in ongoing talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents Disney, Apple, AT&T and other giants in entertainment and tech.
It comes as the rise of streaming has ramped up the tech industry's influence in Hollywood, ensuring that Amazon and Netflix have a seat at the bargaining table alongside major studios such as Sony Pictures and Paramount.
"Every single local that voted far exceeded the 75% threshold for strike authorization," John Lindley, president of the International Cinematographers Guild, said in a message to IATSE Local 600 members on Monday. "We are now scheduled to return to the table tomorrow, October 5th, to hear from the employers."
IATSE consists of camera technicians, editors, makeup artists, location managers and a host of other workers in entertainment. In negotiations for a new contract — also known as a basic agreement — IATSE representatives have pressed for "meals and breaks during the day; rest periods between shifts and on the weekends; a living wage for the lowest-paid people; and some appropriate adjustments to new media [streaming] based on its maturity," Loeb said recently.
While IATSE has yet to declare a strike, the AMPTP warned last month that a walkout would "have a devastating impact on the industry and inevitably will result in thousands of IATSE members losing their income, failing to qualify for health insurance benefits, jeopardizing funding for the pension plan and disrupting production."
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