Dave Chappelle: The Closer. c. Mathieu Bitton

Netflix’s Suspension of Trans Employee Who Called Out Dave Chappelle Draws Ire

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Dave Chappelle’s latest comedy special has launched an entirely new round of discourse around “cancel culture” and what it means to be a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist), but just like always, the people actually dealing with the backlash are the LGBTQ communities.

According to news just being reported from The Verge, Netflix software engineer Terra Field, who tweeted a powerful thread about the issue of transphobia and what was wrong with the “jokes” in Dave Chappelle’s newest Netflix comedy special The Closer, has been suspended.

The Hollywood Reporter is now saying that Netflix has suspended three employees. Netflix has denied that the suspensions are because of what has been tweeted, and a spokesperson from the company has said, “It is absolutely untrue to say that we have suspended any employees for tweeting about this show. Our employees are encouraged to disagree openly and we support their right to do so.”

Field was reportedly suspended for “trying to attend a meeting she wasn’t invited to, according to people familiar with the matter,” says The Verge. While another trans employee is quitting the company “over how the special — and Field’s comments — were handled.”

“We repeatedly provide a platform for content that is harmful to the trans community,” wrote a current employee in Netflix’s open Q&A document. “These decisions have a material impact on our business, including harm to our current employees and talent declining to work with us. What is our plan on how we are going to repair this situation in particular?” None of the questions seen by The Verge asked for the special to be taken down.

Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos came out and defended the Chappelle special and attempted to point out all of the good Netflix has done in a memo that has been shared online:

“I wanted to follow up on The Closer – Dave Chappelle’s latest special – as several of you have reached out following QBR asking what to say to your teams. It never feels good when people are hurting, especially our colleagues, so I wanted to give you some additional context. You should also be aware that some talent may join third parties in asking us to remove the show in the coming days, which we are not going to do.

Chappelle is one of the most popular stand-up comedians today, and we have a long standing deal with him. His last special, Sticks & Stones, also controversial, is our most watched, stickiest, and most award winning stand-up special to date. As with our other talent, we work hard to support their creative freedom – even though this means there will always be content on Netflix some people believe is harmful, like Cuties, 365 Days, 13 Reasons Why, or My Unorthodox Life.

Several of you have also asked where we draw the line on hate. We don’t allow titles on Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe The Closer crosses that line. I recognize, however, that distinguishing between commentary and harm is hard, especially with stand-up comedy which exists to push boundaries. Some people find the art of stand-up to be mean-spirited but our members enjoy it, and it’s an important part of our content offering.

In terms of our commitment to inclusion, we’re working hard to ensure more people see their lives reflected on screen and that under-represented communities are not defined by the single story. So we’re proud of titles like Sex Education, Young Royals, Control Z and Disclosure. Externally, particularly in stand-up comedy, artistic freedom is obviously a very different standard of speech than we allow internally as the goals are different: entertaining people versus maintaining a respectful, productive workplace.

Today’s conversation on Entertain the World was timely. These are hard and uncomfortable issues. We all bring different values and perspectives so thank you for being part of the conversation as it’s important we’re clear about our operating principles.

-Ted”

As one current employee told The Verge, they were not swayed by the statement: “You can’t do a carbon offset for bigotry.”

What is so frustrating is that now every LGBTQ person at Netflix, or LGBTQ creator who has worked with Netflix or wants to (full disclosure: I am working with the LGBTQ section of Netflix on a project), has to deal with the “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” conversation due to the bigotry and arrogance of a cis-heterosexual man.

I have not watched The Closer and do not intend to because I don’t want to give it more clicks. But I did see Chappelle live during his Radio City tour while he was performing, and in it, he made trans jokes. He brought up Caitlyn Jenner, which immediately struck me as odd since, when I think of the face of trans women, I don’t think Caitlyn Jenner.

Laverne Cox was literally transforming the image of trans women on Orange Is the New Black before Caitlyn transitioned. Cox was on the cover of Time magazine in June for the article “The Transgender Tipping Point” by Katy Steinmetz. A Black woman from Mobile, Alabama has been trailblazing within the community, yet Caitlyn Jenner becomes a repeat character in Chappelle’s standup.

That speaks more to Chappelle’s relationship with whiteness than anything else, because Jenner is an outlier in the trans community in almost every way. To platform her because of her Jenner-Kardashian connections and attach that privilege to trans people in general is just truly absurd. Even among trans white women, Caitlyn Jenner is, pardon the term, a snowflake.

“Any of you who have ever watched me know that I have never had a problem with transgender people. If you listen to what I’m saying, clearly, my problem has always been with white people,” Chappelle says. (Because I did not watch The Closer, I am taking the lines from The Daily Beast article.)

But the problem is that these issues do not affect only white trans people. It affects Black people within the communities who are already dealing with homophobia/transphobia and now have to deal with the fact that someone who is still thought of as a thought leader is promoting stuff that is harmful to them.

As for the part that explains why he is “Team TERF”:

Gender is a fact. Every human being in this room, every human being on Earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on earth. That is a fact. Now, I am not saying that to say trans women aren’t women, I am just saying that those pussies that they got… you know what I mean? I’m not saying it’s not pussy, but it’s Beyond Pussy or Impossible Pussy. It tastes like pussy, but that’s not quite what it is, is it? That’s not blood. That’s beet juice.

Wow, just the feminism. I love that my value as a cis-woman can be defined so simply: pussy. If only Judith Butler could be so succinct, we wouldn’t have needed her to write multiple books on the subject.

Also, I think Macduff might want a word.

A lot of male comedians have issues with sexism, and Dave Chappelle is no different. That sexism now leaks into his transphobia, where he assumes that trans women don’t get biology. Don’t know how birth works. Trans people know these things, and plenty of leftist YouTubers have spent a lot of money and theater kid energy explaining theses issues.

He later tries to qualify this material by telling a story about Daphne Dorman, a white transgender woman who loved his trans jokes and whom Chappelle befriended before she took her own life in October 2019, shortly after he’d given her a shoutout in his Netflix special Sticks & Stones. Chappelle reveals that he’s started a trust fund to pay for Daphne’s daughter’s college education, and that he won’t be doing any more LGBTQ jokes “until we are both sure that we are laughing together. I’m telling you, it’s done. I’m done talking about it. All I ask of your community, with all humility: Will you please stop punching down on my people.”

By “his people,” he means Black men who get called out for homophobia and transphobia like DaBaby, Kevin Hart, and himself. He earlier says about DaBaby that “In our country, you can shoot and kill a nigga, but you better not hurt a gay person’s feelings.”

Black trans people are literally at the highest risk for dying, Dave.

Also, the fact that DaBaby didn’t get in trouble for being involved with a fatal shooting is not the gay community’s fault? Besides, we were already done with him when he supported Tory whatever his name by bringing him up on stage after he shot Megan Thee Stallion. Maybe you should ask yourself why him elevating a man who shoots a Black woman doesn’t bother you, but him getting “canceled” does.

David Johns, the executive director for the National Black Justice Coalition, said in a statement:

“It is deeply disappointing that Netflix allowed Dave Chappelle’s lazy and hostile transphobia and homophobia to air on its platform. With 2021 on track to be the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the United States—the majority of whom are Black transgender people—Netflix should know better. Perpetuating transphobia perpetuates violence. Netflix should immediately pull The Closer from its platform and directly apologize to the transgender community. Make no mistake: Black LGBTQ+ and same gender people exist–and have always existed. The fight against oppression is not a zero sum game, and the pervasiveness of white supremacy in the United States is not an excuse for homophobia or transphobia.”

To me, it feels as if Chappelle sees queerness as more aligned with whiteness, to the point where even when he pays lip service to Black LGBTQ people, it feels like “I can’t be transphobic, I have a trans friend” while still saying “TEAM TERF” to support … J.K. Rowling? “My people” should include Black LGBTQ people who have been saying, for years, that this shit is foul—and have been saying so overwhelmingly with reference to his legacy as a comedian.

This shit is dangerous because it is successful and profitable. None of these people have had to change, and despite the Black LGBTQ people being harmed, we are still not even seen as important enough to be heard from—by our people.

(via The Verge, image: Mathieu Bitton)

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Princess Weekes
Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.