Dave Chappelle has received significant criticism for his jokes and comments about trans people in The Closer, his latest Netflix special that premiered on October 5. The backlash is not limited to media and Twitter commentary: Netflix employees have also been questioning the company’s decision to air 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 October 11, 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 marginalized groups,” she wrote. “You’re going to hear a lot of talk about ‘offense.’ We are not offended.”
Field then listed 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.
Responding to The Verge, Netflix said that Field and two other employees were suspended because they attempted to attend an upper-level meeting to which they had not been invited. “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.” Another Netflix employee reportedly quit over issues with 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.”
During the comedy set, Chappelle talks about the challenges faced by Black people and contrasts them to those of queer and trans people, seeming to ignore the overlap between both populations. Chappelle has consistently been a champion for Black Americans–his 2020 special 8:46 was named for the amount of time police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck before he died–but he’s often been critical of LGBTQ+ folks. In his 2019 Netflix performance Sticks & Stones, he laments how in the entertainment industry “you are never, ever allowed to upset the alphabet people.”
“Watching Chappelle contort himself to justify ashy ideas about gender, queerness and identity is harrowing, because the only thing more brutal than someone saying hurtful shit is someone saying hurtful shit moments after making you laugh, moments after cracking you up in a way that’s both fun and deeply needed, moments after you making you feel like you all got free together,” Saeed Jones wrote in a GQ essay about the comedian’s new material.
In one widely-circulated clip from The Closer, Chappelle blasted people for “cancelling” J.K. Rowling. ““EffectuallyEffectually, 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 woman–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.’”