The Dave Chappelle-induced meltdown at Netflix continued apace on Friday after reports emerged that the company had fired a pregnant leader of its transgender employee resource group who had played an instrumental role in organising an upcoming Oct. 20 work stoppage.
Although Netflix did not immediately respond to a request for comment, the company confirmed to The Verge that the employee in question, who declined to be formally identified over fears about online harassment, had been terminated on suspicion of leaking metrics to the press related to Chappelle’s controversial comedy special, The Closer.
“We have let go of an employee for sharing confidential, commercially sensitive information outside the company,” Netflix said in its statement. “We understand this employee may have been motivated by disappointment and hurt with Netflix, but maintaining a culture of trust and transparency is core to our company.”
Among the leaked materials, which ended up in a Wednesday Bloomberg report, was the disclosure that Netflix had paid Chappelle $US24.1 ($33) million for The Closer, slightly more than the $US23.6 ($32) million it paid him for his previous special, 2019’s Sticks & Stones. That payout — massive even by Netflix’s standards — comes despite the fact that, according to internal data also shared with Bloomberg, Netflix had concluded that Sticks & Stones had achieved an “impact value” of $US19.4 ($26) million, meaning it cost more than the value it generated. The disclosures also revealed that the 2019 special had scored a 0.8 on the company’s “efficiency,” scale, which evaluates the streamer’s programming in terms of cost and reach (a break-even score is 1).
Such leaks are especially significant because they’re unprecedented in the company’s history. Although Netflix executives loudly proclaim to value a culture of “radical transparency,” and regularly share internal data with employees as a matter of routine, employees are expressly forbidden from sharing that data outside the company. The fact that employees would take internal data points to the press at all is evidence of the rocky internal climate at Netflix right now, and signifies just how disaffected some workers have become as a result of the company’s decision to defend Chappelle’s special.
In The Closer, Chappelle rails against cancel culture and openly denigrates the transgender community, expressing scepticism about the existence of gender identities and characterising the struggles for justice faced by the Black and trans communities as being fundamentally at odds with each other, as if no overlap between the two groups exists. In reality, of course, the oppression and violence facing both groups are very often intertwined — a key reason, as one former employee told The Verge, that so many are incensed that the company has taken action against an employee who is Black and pregnant.
“All these white people are going around talking to the press and speaking publicly on Twitter and the only person who gets fired is the Black person who was quiet the entire time,” that employee said. “That’s absurd, and just further shows that Black trans people are the ones being targeted in this conversation.”
In a separate incident, another Netflix employee — Terra Field, a senior software engineer who identifies as queer and trans — was sanctioned along with two other workers after the company accused them of spying on a meeting with executives they had not been authorised to attend. (Field later wrote on Twitter that she had been reinstated at her post, and published a written statement from the company confirming that there had been “no ill intent” found in her decision to attend the briefing.)
As outrage over Chappelle’s comments in the special swirled internally and online this week, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos opted to dismiss the concerns of trans allies and employees in a memo, arguing that “while some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”
“The strongest evidence to support this is that violence on screens has grown hugely over the last 30 years, especially with first-party shooter games, and yet violent crime has fallen significantly in many countries,” Sarandos wrote. “Adults can watch violence, assault and abuse — or enjoy shocking stand-up comedy — without it causing them to harm others.”
At this point, Netflix’s response to the controversy has been a case study in how to not make a scandal go away. Instead of thoughtfully taking in the outrage the special has generated and quietly dealing with employee dissatisfaction internally, the company’s leadership has repeatedly dismissed worker’s concerns, fired Black and trans employees and made bizarre claims that derogatory comments about the LGBTQ community don’t translate into real-world harms.
Whatever Netflix is doing here is a case study in how to perpetuate a bad news cycle indefinitely, how to make your brand look worse and worse with each passing day, and how to piss off and alienate almost every marginalised group of people in one fell swoop. We’re waiting to see what happens next.