Staff at Netflix’s headquarters in Hollywood have staged a walkout in protest at the release of a controversial special by the stand-up comedian Dave Chappelle.
Chappelle, one of the biggest names in American comedy, has been accused of making anti-transgender comments in the hour-long special The Closer.
But Netflix has refused to remove the special from its streaming service despite a backlash from the transgender community, both within the company and outside.
Employees joined the planned walkout to take part in a rally outside one of the company main campuses in Hollywood.
There were also scuffles as counter-protesters – carrying signs reading “We like Dave” and “Jokes are funny” – tried to disrupt the rally.
To background chants of “Trans Lives Matter”, campaigners pushed for Netflix to respond to a list of “asks” including the hiring of more trans executives and greater spending on trans and non-binary content.
Protest organiser Ashlee Marie Preston told the rally: “We’re here to speak directly to Netflix. We tried to speak to Dave Chappelle but he was not having the conversation so we’re communicating directly with the people who sign the cheques. We’re not going away.”
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As well as criticism for streaming the special, Netflix has also come under fire for its handling of the backlash.
Chief executive Ted Sarandos has walked back his claim that content didn’t “directly translate to real-world harm”.
He told Deadline: “I should have made sure to recognise that a group of employees was hurting very badly from the decision made. I respect them deeply and I love the contribution they have at Netflix.”
But he continues to stand by the decision to stream the special, telling the Hollywood Reporter: “We tell our employees that some of the content on Netflix you’re not going to like.
“This kind of commitment to artistic expression and free artistic expression is sometimes in conflict with people feeling protected and safe. I do think that’s something we struggle with all the time.”
A number of Netflix stars have expressed their support for the walkout.
Elliot Page, who starred in The Umbrella Academy and is transgender, tweeted: “I stand with trans, nonbinary, and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) employees at Netflix fighting for more and better trans stories and a more inclusive workplace.”
As the walkout was taking place, Chappelle himself was on stage in London.
Fans at the venue told Sky News that they believed entertainers needed to be conscious of how their words affected people.
“We as a society shouldn’t be marginalising or prejudicing any community,” said one.
But another added: “A joke’s a joke. It’s not meaning anything to hurt someone’s feelings.”