Dave Chappelle. (Sean Rayford/Getty)
Dave Chappelle has said he’s “willing to have a conversation” with trans Netflix staff about his controversial comedy special – but activists have a different story.
The comedian has been embroiled in controversy ever since his new stand-up show The Closer debuted on Netflix. In the show, Chappelle jokes about trans women’s genitals, defends DaBaby and JK Rowling and declares himself on “Team TERF”.
The backlash reached a fever pitch on Wednesday (20 October) when trans staff and allies staged a walkout from Netflix’s Los Angeles headquarters.
In a statement provided to TMZ, Dave Chappelle’s publicist said the comedian is open to having a sit-down discussion with trans Netflix staff, some of whom have pointed out that on-screen transphobia gives rise to real-world violence and discrimination.
“Dave stands by his art: No more jokes about transgenders until we can all laugh together,” his representative said.
“The streets are talking and Dave is listening. At some point, when everyone is open, I’m sure the communities will come together.”
However, the people behind Wednesday’s Netflix walkout have a different story. Ashlee Marie Preston, who was one of the organisers of the Los Angeles demonstration, told TMZ that they had reached out to Chappelle and asked him to have a discussion with aggrieved trans employees.
“Dave chose not to show up,” she said.
Chappelle’s representative denied that they had received any invitation to discuss the controversy.
Dave Chappelle is ‘not the cause of the problem’ at Netflix
The comedian’s representative weighed into the discussion after a tense few weeks for Netflix and its trans staff. There was widespread fury among trans employees when The Closer landed on the streaming giant – but the response from CEO Ted Sarandos caused tensions to boil over.
Sarandos told staff in a memo that on-screen content doesn’t translate to real world harm. Many were quick to point out that Netflix documentary Disclosure specifically looks at the ways in which on-screen content gives rise to real-world harm for trans communities.
He has since admitted that he “screwed up”, but the streaming giant has continued to stand by Chappelle and his controversial comedy special.
There was also widespread anger when it emerged that Terra Field, a trans senior software engineer at the company, was temporarily suspended by the company after she tried to attend a “director-level meeting”. She was later reinstated.
In an article published on Medium and titled “It was never about Dave”, Field wrote about her efforts to change the “internal conversation” around trans identities in Netflix.
Field went on to say that she was not trying to “cancel Chappelle”, adding that her criticism wasn’t even really directed at the comedian.
“Dave is not, and has never been, the cause of this problem – he is a symptom of it. That Dave believes the things he says and can say them with relative impunity is a result of the culture we live in: a culture that marginalises and devalues trans people.”
“He contributes to that culture in a very real way, but at least he isn’t out there bragging about how many LGBTQ+ ally ship awards he has won while he is doing it.”