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Netflix workers plan walkout as fallout over Dave Chappelle continues

Written by John Koblin Two weeks after the debut of Dave Chappelle’s standup special “The Closer” on Netflix, the streaming giant is still grappling with internal backlash as a group of its workers prepare to stage a virtual walkout and a former employee spoke publicly about being fired recently. The walkout, planned for Wednesday, is […]

By: New York Times |
October 20, 2021 1:15:16 pm
Comedian Dave Chappelle (AP)

Written by John Koblin

Two weeks after the debut of Dave Chappelle’s standup special “The Closer” on Netflix, the streaming giant is still grappling with internal backlash as a group of its workers prepare to stage a virtual walkout and a former employee spoke publicly about being fired recently.

The walkout, planned for Wednesday, is the latest episode of employee unrest surrounding the special, leading to the kind of tough news coverage normally aimed at other tech companies like Facebook and Google.

Many on Netflix’s staff were angered by Chappelle’s special, criticising it as transphobic and harmful to transgender people. Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief executives, have been steadfast in their support of Chappelle in communications with staff, and have argued that his special has been popular with subscribers and would not lead to real-world harm.

Netflix also fired a worker last week for “sharing confidential, commercially sensitive information outside the company.” That information was included in a report by Bloomberg that included budget totals for Chappelle’s specials as well as internal metrics that showed how valuable the specials were relative to their budgets.

B. Pagels-Minor, a former program manager at Netflix who is transgender, acknowledged being the fired worker in an interview on Tuesday. Laurie Burgess, a lawyer representing Pagels-Minor, who prefers a gender-neutral courtesy title Mx. and gender-neutral pronouns, said, “B. categorically denies leaking sensitive information to the press.”

Netflix did not immediately return a request for comment.

Pagels-Minor, 36, said in an interview that they found last week’s memos from Sarandos “very dismissive.”

“The tone of the message was basically like: You employees can’t possibly understand the nuance of comedy, and that’s why you’re upset,” Pagels-Minor said. “That’s not the point. It’s not that we don’t understand comedy. It’s that this comedy has tones of hatred. And what are we going to do to mitigate that?”

Pagels-Minor was a leader of both the transgender and Black employee resource groups at Netflix. Additionally, they have been featured in promotional Netflix videos celebrating the diversity of the staff, with titles like “Netflix Employees Celebrating Pride” and “Netflix Employees Explain What Being Black Means to Them.”

Pagels-Minor, who is 33 weeks pregnant, said they were one of the organisers of the walkout. Within hours of posting about the walkout on Thursday in a company Slack channel, Pagels-Minor said, they heard from their manager. Pagels-Minor was fired that day.

“I don’t have any ill will toward Netflix,” they said. “I want them to be successful, but the only way to succeed is to hold themselves to the values they expound.”

On Wednesday morning, a rally is scheduled for outside Netflix’s Los Angeles headquarters as “a kickoff” to the walkout, according to a social media post announcing the protest. The rally will include activists and public figures, and a “list of firm asks” will be sent to Sarandos, according to the post.

A Netflix software engineer, Terra Field, wrote a blog post on Medium on Monday detailing her “whirlwind” experience since posting a viral Twitter thread on Oct. 6 that said Chappelle’s special “attacks the trans community, and the very validity of transness.”

In the post, Field, who is transgender, said she was not asking that “The Closer” be removed from Netflix. Rather, she hoped executives would take concrete actions, including to “stop pretending that transphobia in media has no effect on society.” Field said she hoped Netflix would attach a warning to “The Closer” and other series on the streaming service that have been criticised as transphobic, and to promote “other queer and trans content after people consume that content.”

Of “The Closer,” Field wrote: “It doesn’t feel good to have been working at the company that put it out there. Especially when we’ve spent years building out the company’s policies and benefits so that it would be a great place for trans people to work.

“A place can’t be a great place to work if someone has to betray their community to do so,” she added.

There have already been several moments of tension between rank-and-file Netflix employees and top executives in recent days. At an emotional companywide meeting on Friday, several staff members asked tough and persistent questions of Sarandos about the special and the company’s response to the criticism of it.

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