In the wake of intense blowback from the LGBTQ+ community and its allies over transphobic material in comedian Dave Chapelle’s new Netflix special, the platform has suspended three of its own employees for crashing an executive-level meeting addressing concerns about the special.
According to Variety, the meeting was convened during “QBR”—Netflix’s two-day-long quarterly business review—and featured Netflix Co-CEO Ted Sarandos briefing the company’s top 500 employees on how they should respond to employees and talent expressing concerns over Chappelle’s remarks.
“Chapelle is one of the most popular stand-up comedians today, and we have a long-standing deal with him,” Sarandos wrote in a memo to Netflix staffers obtained by Variety. “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,” he added.
In his latest Netflix special, The Closer, Chapelle rails against cancel culture, proclaims himself “Team TERF” (an acronym that refers to trans-exclusionary radical feminism), argues that gender is an immutable fact, and explicitly characterizes the gay community as being at odds with the Black community. He also makes a string of bizarre comments in defense of DaBaby, who was “canceled” after he seemingly disparaged the trans and queer audience members who attended his set at the Rolling Loud music festival.
One of the three suspended employees, Terra Field, is a senior software engineer—who identifies as queer and trans—who had posted a lengthy Twitter thread criticizing Netflix.
“Promoting TERF ideology (which is what we did by giving it a platform yesterday) directly harms trans people, it is not some neutral act,” Field wrote in the now-viral tweets. “This is not an argument with two sides. It is an argument with trans people who want to be alive and people who don’t want us to be.”
Although it was initially reported that Field’s critique of Netflix had played a role in her suspension, the streamer vehemently rejected that characterization on Monday.
“It is absolutely untrue to say that we have suspended any employees for tweeting about this show,” a Netflix spokesperson told Variety. “Our employees are encouraged to disagree openly and we support their right to do so.”
Netflix did not immediately respond to additional requests for comment.
In his internal memo, Sarandos went on to clarify the platform’s internal logic on offensive material, acknowledging that while The Closer had the potential to offend some viewers, the freedom to “push boundaries” is part of comedy’s art form:
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.
Despite loudly and frequently trumpeting its own aspirations to foster a company culture of radical transparency and accountability, Netflix has a history of firing employees who voice dissent. In July, the platform dismissed three senior film marketing executives after they were discovered to have complained about management on a company Slack channel they thought was private.