David Chappelle received substantial criticism for his jokes and comments about trans people in his Netflix special, The Closer, which aired on 5 October. The backlash goes beyond comments in the media and on Twitter: Netflix employees have also criticised the company for airing the special.
The day after The Closer’s release, Netflix senior software engineer Terra Field posted a Twitter thread responding to the Chappelle special. On 11 October, The Verge reported that Field, who is trans, had been suspended.
“I work at Netflix. Yesterday we launched another Chappelle special where he attacks the trans community and the very validity of transness–all while trying to pit us against other marginalised groups,” she wrote. “You’re going to hear a lot of talk about ‘offence.’ We are not offended.”
Field went on to list the names of 38 trans and non-binary people who have been killed in 2021, including 30-year-old Dominique “DeDe” Jackson in Mississippi, siblings Jeffrey “JJ” Bright, 16, and Jasmine Cannady, 22 in Pennsylvania, and 24-year-old Tiara Banks in Chicago. “These are the people that a callous disregard for the lives of trans people by our society have taken from us, and they all deserved better,” she wrote.
Field and two other Netflix employees were suspended for trying to attend a meeting to which they were not invited, Netflix told The Verge. “It is absolutely untrue to say that we have suspended any employee for tweeting about this show,” a spokesperson wrote. “Our employees are encouraged to disagree openly, and we support their right to do so.” An employee at Netflix quit over issues related to the Chappelle special.
Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos sent an internal email saying the company doesn’t “allow titles on Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe The Closer crosses that line.”
Chappelle slammed people for “cancelling” JK Rowling in one viral clip from The Closer that is doing the rounds on social media. “Effectually, she said gender was a fact, the trans community got mad as shit, they started calling her a TERF. I didn’t even know what the fuck that was, but I know that trans people make up words to win arguments…This is a real thing. This is a group of women that hate transgender women–they don’t hate transgender women, but they look at trans women the way we Blacks might look at blackface. It offends them. Like ‘Ugh, this bitch is doing an impression of me.’”
“Promoting TERF ideology (which is what we did by giving it a platform yesterday) directly harms trans people; it is not some neutral act,” Field wrote. “This is not an argument with two sides. It is an argument with trans people who want to be alive and people who don’t want us to be.”
Netflix and Dave Chappelle go a long way back. The comedian signed a deal to create three specials for the platform in 2016. Four years later, Netflix pulled Chappelle’s Show from its streaming service at the comedian’s request after ViacomCBS, the original rights holder, began licensing it without his permission. The show was reinstated in 2021.