The 2021 Netflix walkout was a labor dispute involving a number of workers at American streaming and production company Netflix in late 2021. After several workers spoke out against The Closer, a controversial stand-up comedy special released by Netflix, the company's response sparked further controversy, leading to a walkout organized by the Netflix trans employee resource group.

Background

See also: Media portrayals of transgender people and Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen

During the four-year period of 2017–2020, GLAAD's annual Studio Responsibility Index found that major studios had produced no films with transgender or nonbinary characters.[1] In 2012, GLAAD reviewed 102 episodes and storylines of scripted television containing transgender characters, finding that "54% of those were categorized as containing negative representations at the time of their airing" while another 35% ranged from "problematic" to "good," with only 12% considered "groundbreaking, fair and accurate" to such an extent that they could win a GLAAD Media Award.[2]

Research has found that viewing multiple transgender TV characters and stories improves viewers' attitudes toward transgender people and related policies.[3][failed verification]

The Closer controversy

Main article: The Closer (2021 film)

The Closer is a 2021 stand-up comedy special written and performed by Dave Chappelle for Netflix. In the special, released on October 5, 2021, Chappelle has segments that joke about the discrimination against the African-American community relative to the discrimination against the LGBTQ community, including one where he states that he is "Team TERF." The special sparked controversy, receiving heavy criticism for the comments perceived as transphobic and racist. GLAAD issued a statement saying that Chappelle's "brand has become synonymous with ridiculing trans people and other marginalized communities."[4] David Johns, the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, released a statement asking Netflix to remove The Closer from its service, saying that "[p]erpetuating transphobia perpetuates violence."[5]

Labor dispute and walkout

On October 7, Netflix suspended Terra Field, a trans employee, after she posted a Twitter thread stating that "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" which went viral. Netflix alleged that Field, as well as two other employees, had attempted to gain access to a director-level meeting without permission.[6] Dear White People writer Jaclyn Moore additionally announced that she would no longer collaborate with Netflix, stating the company continues to "put out and profit from blatantly and dangerously homophobic content."[7]

On October 8, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos defended the special's release in a memo sent to employees, saying that "[w]e don't allow titles on Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don't believe The Closer crosses that line."[8]

Following Sarandos' statement, the trans employee resource group at Netflix announced they would stage a walkout on October 20, stating in a message that the streaming company had failed them "by repeatedly releasing content that harms the Trans community and continually failing to create content that represents and uplifts Trans content."[9] That day, Field and the two other employees who had been suspended were reinstated.

Soon after the employee resource group's threat of a walkout, Sarandos defended the special once again in a company-wide email saying "[w]ith The Closer, we understand that the concern is not about offensive-to-some content but titles which could increase real world harm (such as further marginalizing already marginalized groups, hate, violence etc.)" and that "[w]hile some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn't directly translate to real-world harm".[10][11] On October 15, it was reported that Netflix had fired one of the lead organizers of the walkout, a Black trans person who is pregnant, allegedly for leaking nonpublic financial information to Bloomberg News.[12][13][14]

On October 18, the Trans Employee Resource Group within Netflix released a list of changes they wanted to see the company make, including:

On October 19, Sarandos stated in an interview with Variety that there was "a group of employees who were definitely feeling pain and hurt from a decision we made" and that his internal responses to the situation "should have led with a lot more humanity."[16][17]

On October 20, at around 10:30 a.m., Netflix workers began walking off the job.[18] Workers who were working from home also joined the walkout, logging out of virtual workplaces.[19] A rally was held outside of Netflix's offices in Los Angeles, attracting only ten to thirty Netflix staff and supporters. Journalist Ashlee Marie Preston gave a speech at the rally, stating that "there is this manipulation of algorithmic science that distorts the way that we perceive ourselves and others. And I think that companies like Netflix, Facebook, and Instagram, they play into it, and they monetize on it." A small number of counter-protestors also showed up to the rally, including some who chanted anti-trans slogans.[20][21]

On October 29, B. Pagels-Minor and Terra Field announced that they would be filing unfair labor practice charges against Netflix with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that Netflix retaliated against them for attempting to improve working conditions within the company.[22] On November 22, Field announced that she was resigning from Netflix. That same date, the lawyer for Pagels-Minor and Field stated "My clients have resolved their differences with Netflix and will be voluntarily withdrawing their NLRB charge".[23]

Reactions

A number of prominent filmmakers spoke out in support of the walkout, including Elliot Page, Lilly Wachowski, Billy Eichner, Mason Alexander Park, and Angelica Ross.[24][25] Comedian Hannah Gadsby condemned Sarandos for drawing her name into the controversy, calling Netflix an "amoral algorithm cult."[26] Writing for USA Today, filmmaker Leigh Finke criticized Netflix for portraying itself as "a neutral entity in politics and culture, they'd have us believe. They're working in a vacuum where art exists unto itself, incapable of real-world harm."[27]

A number of commentators saw the walkout as part of a growing labor rights movement within the American tech sector.[28][29] Alan Hyde of Rutgers Law School stated that the walkout was part of a trend of tech workers reclaiming more say in the activities of the company they work for, pointing to the ongoing Striketober and stating that "they want to have a say in the kinds of businesses their company does, the kind of workplace culture they have, who the clients are."[30] Veena Dubal of the University of California, Hastings stated that "three years ago, a worker walkout at a major tech company would have been unthinkable" and that the walkout demonstrated that white-collar workers now understood "their ability to change the unethical practices of their employer by withholding their labor".[31]

References

  1. ^ Wong, Curtis M. (July 15, 2021). "Transgender Characters Were Totally Absent From Hollywood Films In 2020, GLAAD Finds". HuffPost. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  2. ^ "Victims or Villains: Examining Ten Years of Transgender Images on Television". GLAAD. 2012. Archived from the original on April 7, 2020. Retrieved February 15, 2021.
  3. ^ Gillig, Traci K; Rosenthal, Erica L; Murphy, Sheila T; Folb, Kate Langrall (2017). "More than a Media Moment: The Influence of Televised Storylines on Viewers' Attitudes toward Transgender People and Policies". Sex Roles. 78 (7–8): 1–13. doi:10.1007/s11199-017-0816-1. S2CID 149238194.
  4. ^ Murphy, J. Kim (October 6, 2021). "Dave Chappelle's Netflix Special Called Out by GLAAD, National Black Justice Coalition for 'Ridiculing Trans People'". Variety. Retrieved October 9, 2021.
  5. ^ Patten, Dominic (October 6, 2021). "'Dear White People' EP "Done' With Netflix Over Dave Chappelle's New "Transphobic" Special; Comic Lambasted By GLAAD For "Ridiculing" Trans & LGBTQ+ Communities – Update". Deadline. Retrieved October 12, 2021.
  6. ^ Schiffer, Zoe (October 11, 2021). "Netflix suspends trans employee who tweeted about Dave Chappelle special". The Verge.
  7. ^ Scottie Andrew (October 8, 2021). "Jaclyn Moore of 'Dear White People' boycotts Netflix over Dave Chappelle's anti-transgender jokes". CNN.
  8. ^ Patten, Dominic (October 11, 2021). "Dave Chappelle's Latest Netflix Special Doesn't Cross "The Line On Hate," Ted Sarandos Says Despite Controversy; Staffer Who Criticized Trans Remarks In 'The Closer' Suspended". Deadline. Retrieved October 11, 2021.
  9. ^ Schiffer, Zoe (October 12, 2021). "Trans employees at Netflix plan walkout even as one activist is reinstated following suspension". The Verge. Retrieved October 13, 2021.
  10. ^ Donnelly, Matt (October 14, 2021). "Ted Sarandos Doubles Down on Dave Chappelle Defense: 'Content Doesn't Directly Translate to Real-World Harm' (EXCLUSIVE)".
  11. ^ Walsh, Savannah (October 14, 2021). "Netflix's Ted Sarandos Just Keeps Defending Dave Chappelle". Vanity Fair.
  12. ^ Schiffer, Zoe (October 15, 2021). "Netflix just fired the organizer of the trans employee walkout". The Verge.
  13. ^ Daniel Arkin (October 15, 2021). "Netflix fires employee for sharing 'confidential' information amid Chappelle uproar". NBC News.
  14. ^ "Netflix Has Fired a Pregnant Organizer of the Trans Employee Walkout". Gizmodo. October 15, 2021.
  15. ^ Schiffer, Zoe (October 18, 2021). "Netflix trans employees and allies release a list of demands ahead of the walkout". The Verge.
  16. ^ Keck, Catie (October 20, 2021). "Netflix boss says he "screwed up" over Chappelle special fallout". The Verge.
  17. ^ Donnelly, Matt (October 20, 2021). "'I Screwed Up': Netflix's Ted Sarandos Addresses Dave Chappelle Fallout".
  18. ^ "Netflix Employees Walk Out, Rally With Supporters For Trans Community". HuffPost. October 20, 2021.
  19. ^ "Netflix walkout: Hundreds gather to protest Dave Chappelle's special". NBC News. October 20, 2021.
  20. ^ Jackson, Brent Lang, Matt Donnelly, Angelique; Lang, Brent; Donnelly, Matt; Jackson, Angelique (October 20, 2021). "Netflix Employee Walkout Grows Tense as Trans Rights Protesters Clash With Dave Chappelle Supporters".((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  21. ^ "Chappelle critics and supporters square off at Netflix as employees walk out". Los Angeles Times. October 20, 2021.
  22. ^ "Netflix employees at the heart of the Dave Chappelle controversy file charges against the company". The Verge. October 29, 2021.
  23. ^ Schiffer, Zoe (November 22, 2021). "Netflix employee at center of Dave Chappelle protest resigns". NBC News. Retrieved November 23, 2021.
  24. ^ Dry, Jude (October 20, 2021). "Inside the Netflix Walkout: Trans Employees Rally Against Company Support for Dave Chappelle Special".
  25. ^ "Trans Netflix staff begin walkout after row with leadership over Dave Chappelle special". inews.co.uk. October 20, 2021.
  26. ^ "Hannah Gadsby condemns Netflix as an 'amoral algorithm cult' amid Dave Chappelle controversy". the Guardian. October 16, 2021.
  27. ^ Finke, Leigh. "Netflix walkout over Dave Chappelle is not just a matter of transgender rights and dignity". USA TODAY.
  28. ^ "Tech workers are no longer afraid to go public. Here's how they found their voices". Los Angeles Times. October 27, 2021.
  29. ^ Kelly, Jack. "Netflix, Dave Chappelle And The Rise Of Worker Activism". Forbes.
  30. ^ "Netflix employees are staging a walkout as a fired organizer speaks out". NPR.
  31. ^ "Netflix employees join wave of tech activism with walkout over Chappelle controversy". the Guardian. October 20, 2021.