For the past respective years, comedian Dave Chappelle has been locked successful a vicious rhythm of anti-cancel-culture standup comedy. Over six Netflix specials, Chappelle has lashed retired at what helium views arsenic progressive attempts to cancel him for his incendiary drama — each portion mocking the queer and transgender communities and the Me Too question and mostly doubling, tripling, and sextupling down connected the violative jokes and reactionary authorities that radical took contented with successful the archetypal place.
It’s a fatiguing ouroboros.
Chappelle’s latest peculiar The Closer is perchance his past for the streaming service, and with it, the sermon astir his drama has intensified. In the special, released October 5, Chappelle’s wit is more openly transphobic than ever.
Many trans viewers consciousness Chappelle’s drama has escalated into overt hatred — and they’ve been voicing their complaints straight to Netflix. Moreover, Netflix precocious suspended a trans employee who tweeted astir the special’s transphobia. Netflix has said the worker was suspended not for her viral tweets, but for attending a director-level concern gathering without an invitation. (The institution has since lifted the suspension; another trans worker was fired aft allegedly leaking fund accusation astir Chapelle’s special.)
Despite the uproar, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos defended Chappelle and his comedy. “We don’t let titles connected Netflix that are designed to incite hatred oregon violence, and we don’t judge The Closer crosses that line,” helium wrote successful an interior email connected October 8.
But with Chappelle platforming a presumption of sex essentialism onstage, and declaring that he’s “team TERF” — thereby aligning himself with trans-exclusionary extremist feminists who argue that trans women aren’t women — galore Netflix viewers and employees disagree. Netflix’s attack to the full concern has triggered worker resignations, backlash, and now, a walkout of the company’s trans worker assets radical and allies, held October 20. Participating unit presented Netflix with a database of demands for boosting trans and nonbinary contented connected the level and decreasing harm anterior to the walkout— and portion Netflix issued a connection of support, it’s unclear if immoderate of them volition beryllium met.
Complicating the concern adjacent further is an uncomfortable wedge that has lone exacerbated the polarization astir Chappelle: the termination of Daphne Dorman, a trans pistillate who defended and befriended Chappelle, past became a consenting taxable of his drama herself successful his 2019 Netflix peculiar Sticks and Stones. Following her decease soon aft the peculiar came out, she became a focal constituent of the statement astir whether Chappelle’s drama is harmful to trans people.
That Chappelle discusses her again successful his newest peculiar is simply a heated constituent of contention betwixt those who judge trans viewers are bullying Chappelle and his friends — including Dorman — and those who judge Chappelle’s wit makes it harder for trans radical similar Dorman to safely exist.
It’s a tangled, unpleasant mess, but it’s an important moment, some for Netflix and for the progressively vocal trans assemblage that’s fed up with Chappelle.
Yes, Chappelle is being transphobic
To beryllium highly clear: Dave Chappelle astir apt considers himself a trans ally. He’s said repeatedly that helium supports trans people, and successful The Closer, helium speaks retired against North Carolina’s notorious anti-trans bath law.
He seems to beryllium astatine pains to usage his offstage enactment of trans radical to warrant his overtly transphobic onstage comedy. To beryllium arsenic clear, however, his drama has always been transphobic.
As Vulture’s Craig Jenkins sums up, “How overmuch you bask The Closer volition beryllium connected whether you’re capable oregon consenting to judge the comic and the quality are abstracted entities and to bargain that the quality loves america all, and the comic is lone performing spitefulness for his audience.”
Chappelle insists his jokes — successful which helium has derisively referred to the LGBTQ assemblage arsenic “the alphabet people,” “gross,” and “confusing,” among different things — person been misconstrued by aggravated progressives.
Yet The Closer’s fixation connected trans radical drastically escalates the code of his erstwhile comedy, veering into outright anti-science arguments astir sex portion continuing his fixation connected the anatomy of trans people. Many viewers were disturbed and upset to spot Chappelle state himself “team TERF” successful the caller special, on with defending J.K. Rowling for identifying with TERF ideology. “They canceled J.K. Rowling,” Chappelle opines, ignoring that Rowling is inactive a bestselling writer with millions of fans. “Effectually she said sex was fact, the trans assemblage got huffy arsenic shit, they started calling her a TERF.”
“Gender is fact” seems to beryllium Chappelle’s mode of implying that sex is binary and biologically determined. Science says otherwise. Chappelle besides fails to notation successful The Closer that Rowling has openly befriended and amplified the voices of TERFs connected societal media, and that she penned a agelong manifesto expressing the pernicious TERF ideology that trans women mightiness really beryllium antheral intersexual predators successful disguise. Rowling’s transphobia, successful different words, is acold much progressive than what Chappelle presents arsenic a elemental statement.
After downplaying the information of Rowling’s actions, Chappelle proceeds to downplay his own, adjacent portion luridly describing the invalidity of trans pistillate anatomy and repeatedly expressing gender-essentialist views. He besides seems to deliberation the cheery and trans communities dwell lone of achromatic people, as though the concerns of Black and LGBTQ communities are wholly abstracted and mightiness ne'er overlap. He adjacent compares being trans to wearing blackface, an alarming reframing of the insidious thought that trans radical marque a mockery of gender.
As the eventual defence of his viewpoint, Chappelle past goes connected to sermon Dorman, a trans comedian whom Chappelle worked with, befriended, and discussed successful his Grammy-winning 2019 peculiar Sticks and Stones. Like The Closer, Sticks and Stones saw Chappelle dropping a litany of transphobic remarks, past holding up his relationship with Dorman arsenic an illustration of his tolerance toward trans people. Chappelle joked astir making retired with her — portion inspecting her anatomy.
Initially, Dorman was thrilled by Chappelle’s recognition. But pursuing the special, she received backlash from different trans people, immoderate of whom had argued that Chappelle was conscionable utilizing her arsenic a mode of excusing his transphobia.
Barely 2 months aft the 2019 special, Dorman died by suicide. Shortly earlier Dorman’s death, she posted an apology note to Facebook. “To those of you who are huffy astatine me: delight forgive me,” she wrote. “To those of you consciousness similar I failed you: I did and I’m atrocious and I anticipation you’ll retrieve maine successful amended times and amended light.”
It’s important to admit the uncomfortable world that Dorman was criticized and harassed by different trans radical and allies. But focusing connected this framing turns Dorman into a martyr for the origin of defending Chappelle, who uses Dorman’s termination and the bullying communicative to support and warrant his reactionary presumption successful The Closer.
Dorman, helium tells his assemblage astatine the extremity of his set, went against “her tribe” (i.e., the trans community) successful bid to support him, aft which they “dragged that bitch each implicit Twitter.” (For the record, there’s precise small toxicity and not adjacent precise overmuch dissent in the extant replies to Dorman from that period.) “It wasn’t the jokes,” helium says. “I don’t cognize what was going connected successful her beingness ... but I stake [the trans community] dragging her didn’t help.”
Dorman’s household has besides continued to defend Chappelle, referring to him arsenic an “LGBTQ ally.”
Yet Dorman’s decease reflects different uncomfortable reality: Trans radical are astatine an highly precocious hazard of dying by suicide oregon transphobic violence. Chappelle’s latest treble down arrives conscionable arsenic trans radical are presently surviving done what mightiness crook retired to beryllium the astir violently transphobic play in recorded history. To property Dorman’s decease to bullying from “woke scolds” erases the world that arsenic a trans woman, Dorman was highly susceptible to bullying and harassment due to the fact that of her sex identity, arsenic good arsenic intelligence wellness struggles and becoming a unfortunate of hatred crimes oregon different acts of violence.
These are each arguably the kinds of transphobia that tin escalate erstwhile a salient comedian with a imaginable assemblage the size of Netflix’s 180 million subscribers treats trans individuality similar a quirky made-up fantasy.
In fact, study after study has shown a nonstop transportation betwixt the benignant of perceptions of sex individuality Chappelle is performing and anti-trans violence. Even if you judge “Chappelle, the offstage human” is simply a decent and supportive trans ally, “Chappelle, the onstage comic” is promoting bigotry and amplifying sex essentialism successful a mode that contributes to making trans radical profoundly unsafe. Additionally, contempt Chappelle’s reluctance to admit the overlap betwixt Black and trans interests, Black trans women are the astir susceptible group, by orders of magnitude, to the harmful interaction of rhetoric similar Chappelle’s.
Little wonder, then, that Chappelle has drawn sustained backlash from queer and trans communities. Over the weeks since The Closer’s release, that backlash has lone grown much aggravated — and Netflix’s absorption hasn’t helped.
Chappelle’s transphobia is present a occupation for Netflix
In summation to drafting overwhelmingly antagonistic responses to the transphobic worldly from critics arsenic good arsenic galore queer viewers, The Closer swiftly drew repudiations from advocacy groups astir the nation, including the National Black Justice Coalition.
Anger and disappointment person besides travel from wrong the larger Netflix organization. Dear White People co-showrunner Jaclyn Moor, who is trans, decided to halt collaborating with the institution successful effect to its determination to basal by The Closer. “It is overmuch easier to perpetrate unit against idiosyncratic that you deliberation is immoral oregon a liar oregon … idiosyncratic not worthy of your respect,” Moor told the Hollywood Reporter, referring to the mode Chappelle’s rhetoric endangers trans people. “That makes it overmuch easier to wounded me. ... I conscionable privation to not beryllium killed.”
I volition not enactment with them arsenic agelong arsenic they proceed to enactment retired and nett from blatantly and dangerously transphobic content.
Equally poignant was the backlash Netflix received from its ain employees, peculiarly the unit down the Twitter relationship @Most, which promotes the company’s queer content. In an unusually earthy thread, the unit moving the relationship told its followers that the week pursuing The Closer’s merchandise had “fucking suck[ed].”
To beryllium clear: As the queer and trans radical who tally this account, you tin ideate that the past mates of weeks person been hard. We can’t ever power what goes connected screen. What we tin power is what we make here, and the POV we bring to interior conversations.— Most (@Most) October 13, 2021
In effect to a flurry of interior questions astir The Closer and Netflix’s work not to aerial transphobic views, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos issued a company-wide email connected October 8, obtained by the Verge. Reiterating that Netflix would not beryllium removing The Closer from its library, helium expressed pridefulness successful the company’s concern with Chappelle and praised Sticks and Stones for winning awards and attracting views. He placed The Closer successful the aforesaid class arsenic different highly arguable Netflix releases, including Cuties and 13 Reasons Why, some works of fabrication that person been accused of creating real-world harm.
Rather than prosecute the sticky question of whether Chappelle’s persona is different enactment of creator licence oregon whether he’s straightforwardly promoting transphobia to the masses, Sarandos denied that The Closer was transphobic astatine all. “We don’t let titles connected Netflix that are designed to incite hatred oregon violence, and we don’t judge The Closer crosses that line,” helium wrote, earlier adding that “some radical find the creation of stand-up to beryllium mean-spirited but our members bask it.”
He further suggested that Netflix was commendable for ensuring that “under-represented communities are not defined by the azygous story,” seemingly implying that Chappelle’s ridicule of trans radical mightiness adjacent beryllium a triumph for diversity.
But the contented of acceptance of trans individuality is overmuch much than an contented of “mean-spirited” drama — arsenic the precocious rates of trans unit indicate, it’s precise virtually beingness oregon death.
Terra Field, a elder bundle technologist astatine Netflix, posted a viral Twitter thread astir Chappelle the time aft The Closer’s release, making it precise wide what the stakes are for trans people. “Promoting TERF ideology (which is what we did by giving it a level yesterday) straight harms trans people, it is not immoderate neutral act,” she wrote. “This is not an statement with 2 sides. It is an statement with trans radical who privation to beryllium live and radical who don’t privation america to be.”
Netflix subsequently suspended Field, who is trans. Although the quality rapidly grabbed attention, some Netflix and Field acknowledged that she and 2 different employees were suspended for attending Netflix’s quarterly concern gathering without an invitation, not for speaking retired astir The Closer. “Our employees are encouraged to disagree openly and we enactment their close to bash so,” a institution spokesperson told the Verge. Field was reinstated connected October 12. Another worker reportedly resigned successful protestation implicit The Closer and Netflix’s response.
Sarandos tried again successful a follow-up institution memo issued October 11. This time, helium noted that “With ‘The Closer,’ we recognize that the interest is not astir offensive-to-some contented but titles which could summation real-world harm (such arsenic further marginalizing already marginalized groups, hate, unit etc.),” helium wrote.
Still, Sarandos reaffirmed the company’s determination to basal by The Closer, arguing that “we person a beardown content that contented connected surface doesn’t straight construe to real-world harm.” Given the nonstop nexus betwixt taste transphobia and real-world violence, and fixed the transportation betwixt Chappelle’s erstwhile Netflix peculiar and Dorman’s suicide, it’s a troubling defense.
Netflix is coming into this contention amid a clip of triumph. September’s smash deed Squid Game became the most-viewed bid successful Netflix history and caused the company’s banal to deed grounds highs. With a windfall similar that astatine the streaming giant’s back, upsetting trans viewers mightiness look similar a comparatively insignificant problem. Indeed, successful an interview with The Hollywood Reporter anterior to the October 20th walkout, Sarandos walked backmost his erstwhile statements, but stuck to his archetypal position.
He “screwed up those communications,” helium said, referring to the interior memos, some by failing to admit his employees’ symptom and by failing to admit that stories tin and bash interaction the existent world. “Of people ... storytelling causes alteration successful the world, sometimes hugely affirmative and sometimes negative,” helium stated. But helium freely offered, “My stance hasn’t changed ... You truly can’t delight everybody oregon the contented would beryllium beauteous dull.”
Still, Netflix intelligibly hasn’t had the past word. The company-wide walkout connected Wednesday, spearheaded by the staff’s trans worker assets group, protested not lone Netflix’s determination to merchandise and clasp Chappelle’s special, but besides the deficiency of affirmative trans contented connected the level and request a amended ongoing effect from the institution to trans concerns.
The staffers’ list of demands, presented to Netflix earlier the walkout, included calls for Netflix to put successful much affirmative trans and nonbinary contented and to let the institution transgender ERG to person much of a dependable successful shaping institution policy, particularly wherever trans practice is concerned. “As we’ve discussed done Slack, email, text, and everything successful between,” the ERG organizers wrote successful an interior memo obtained by the Verge, “our enactment has shown america they bash not uphold the values to which we are held.” (The institution recently fired 1 of the trans employees who helped signifier the walkout, claiming that they leaked related confidential accusation astir The Closer’s accumulation fund and viewership totals. The erstwhile staffer has denied the allegation.)
Perhaps ironically, The Closer was expected to beryllium Chappelle’s “last” peculiar for Netflix; during the show, the comedian besides professed himself “done talking about” queer and transgender issues and said helium won’t beryllium joking astir the communities again “until we are some definite that we are laughing together.”
But if Chappelle intended to spell retired connected a enactment of admonishment and anticipation for reconciliation, helium seems to person missed his target. If anything, The Closer seems to person bonded members of the trans assemblage successful a groundswell of choler and activism, aimed astatine not lone Chappelle but besides the streaming elephantine that has empowered the worst aspects of his drama for years. If The Closer has proven anything, yet it’s that Chappelle, Netflix, and its trans audiences won’t beryllium laughing unneurotic anytime soon.
Update, October 20, 2:50 pm: This communicative has been updated with further statements from Sarandos and caller accusation astir the Netflix walkout and the company’s termination of an employee.