Amid cheers and chants of “Team trans!,” dozens of Netflix employees walked out of a company office building in Los Angeles on Wednesday to protest a recent Dave Chappelle stand-up special, in one of the most visible signs of worker unrest in the history of the streaming service.
Critics inside and outside the company have said that Mr. Chappelle’s show, “The Closer,” promotes bigotry against transgender people. The protest put the tech company directly at the center of broader cultural debates about transphobia, free speech and employee activism. Throughout the day, #NetflixWalkOut was a top trending topic on Twitter.
Carrying signs that read “Hey Netflix: Do Better” and “Transphobia Is Not a Joke,” the employees joined more than a hundred supporters and activists who had begun rallying a couple of hours before.
In addition to the scene in Los Angeles, some Netflix staffers working remotely shut their laptops and called off work for the day at noon. It’s unclear how many at Netflix, which had more than 9,000 full-time employees globally at the end of last year, participated in the virtual walkout.
At the protest in Los Angeles, Joey Soloway, the creator of the Amazon Prime comedy series “Transparent,” urged Netflix executives to add a transgender person to its corporate board “this week,” and pushed the entertainment industry as a whole to begin hiring significantly more transgender people, adding: “I want to pitch to a trans person. I would love to have a trans person give me notes on my story. I want a trans agent. I want a trans manager. I want so many trans critics at newspapers.”
Under bright skies, activists and supporters vastly outnumbered a small group of counterprotesters who carried signs that read “Jokes Are Funny” and “Netflix, Don’t Cancel Free Speech.” There were a few minor skirmishes, but the atmosphere was mostly peaceful, with supporters chanting, “We want accountability. When do we want it? Now!” and, “Trans lives matter.”
One of the organizers of the protest was Ashlee Marie Preston, who was featured in the Netflix documentary “Disclosure,” about Hollywood’s impact on the transgender community. In an interview, Ms. Preston said she was there because Netflix employees have to be “very careful” about speaking to the news media.
B. Pagels-Minor, who is transgender and was fired last week from their job as a program manager at Netflix, read a list of demands that employees had for the company. Among them were hiring more transgender people and including disclaimers for content that is criticized for being transphobic. Netflix has said Mx. Pagels-Minor was fired for sharing sensitive documents outside the company; a lawyer for the former employee denied that her client shared information with the news media.
One employee, Gabrielle Korn, wrote on Twitter: “We aren’t fighting WITH Netflix. We’re fighting FOR Netflix. We all know how great it can be and that it’s not there yet.”
Though Mr. Chappelle’s special has come under fire, there are some who have defended him, including the comic Damon Wayans, who told TMZ last week, “We were slaves to P.C. culture and he just, you know — as an artist, he’s van Gogh. He cut his ear off. He’s trying to tell us it’s OK.”
Amid the rolling public relations crisis, Netflix executives have begun to adopt a conciliatory tone while still remaining supportive of Mr. Chappelle.
Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s co-chief executive, gave several interviews on Tuesday in which he said that he had “screwed up” communication with employees after the outcry and that he should have discussed the controversy with more “humanity.” Mr. Sarandos also conceded that shows, series and movies on Netflix did have an impact on the real world, something he denied in an initial statement.
Similarly, hours before Wednesday’s protest, the company said in a statement that it supported the walkout.
“We value our trans colleagues and allies and understand the deep hurt that’s been caused,” Netflix said in a statement. “We respect the decision of any employee who chooses to walk out and recognize we have much more work to do both within Netflix and in our content.”