Following the controversy surrounding Dave Chappelle's latest special "The Closer," the comedian is working to change the narrative, targeting corporations and not the transgender community he took aim at in his Netflix show.
"I want everyone in this audience to know that even though the media frames this that it's me versus that community, that is not what it is," Chappelle said in a video on his Instagram Monday, during a what appeared to be a recording of a recent live set. "Do not blame the LBGTQ (sic) community for any of this (expletive). This has nothing to do with them. It's about corporate interest, and what I can say, and what I cannot say."
The special led to a Netflix employee walkout and confrontations between Chappelle fans and trans rights advocates.
"For the record, and I need you to know this, everyone I know from that community has been nothing but loving and supporting," Chappelle continued. "So I don't know what all this nonsense is about."
In a special that attempted to juxtapose the pace of civil rights gained by LGBTQ people over those fought for by the Black community, Chappelle repeatedly focused on jokes that targeted the trans community, doubling down on criticism that his sets punch down on the most vulnerable.
During "Closer," he also expressed solidarity with "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling, who drew backlash after conflating sex with gender and defending ideas suggesting that changing one's biological sex was a threat to her own gender identity. "I agree, man," Chappelle said in his special, amid base jokes about trans bodies. "Gender is a fact."
Now, the comedian says he's willing to meet with the trans community (though at a rally last week, members of that same community said they had been rebuffed). But on his terms: "To the transgender community, I am more than willing to give you an audience, but you will not summon me. I am not bending to anybody's demands. And if you want to meet with me, I'd be more than willing to, but I have some conditions:
"First of all, you cannot come if you have not watched my special from beginning to end. You must come to a place of my choosing and a time of my choosing. And thirdly, you must admit that Hannah Gadsby is not funny."
Gadsby, an Australian comedian who was cited as an example of content diversity by Netflix chief Ted Sarandos in a widely disseminated memo to staff, blasted the co-CEO on Instagram last week, writing, "Now I have to deal with even more of the hate and anger that Dave Chappelle's fans like to unleash on me every time Dave gets 20 million dollars to process his emotionally stunted partial world view.”
In his video released Monday, Chappelle also lamented how his upcoming untitled documentary has been affected by the "Closer" fallout, saying the project has been disinvited to various film festivals and that Hollywood studios and film companies have backed away. "Nobody will touch this film.
“Thank God for Ted Sarandos and Netflix, he’s the only one that didn’t cancel me yet,” Chappelle said.
Fired Netflix employee is 'tired as hell'
While Chappelle may be ready to engage with the transgender community, the fired Netflix staffer who organized the company walkout last week over "The Closer" says issues of inclusion and equity go far beyond the comedian.
The employee, B. Pagels-Minor, tells USA TODAY they are "tired as hell."
Netflix fired Pagels-Minor, who is 33 weeks pregnant, earlier this month amid growing controversy regarding Chappelle's transphobic remarks in "The Closer." The company says an unidentified employee leaked details including how much Netflix had paid for “The Closer” (a reported $24.1 million), along with the special's viewership (10 million) to Bloomberg. Pagels-Minor says they were the accused employee.
While Netflix did not respond to requests for details on the circumstances of Pagels-Minor's firing, a spokesperson noted "the employee admitted sharing confidential information externally from their Netflix email on several occasions. Also, they were the only employee to access detailed, sensitive data on four titles that later appeared in the press."
Pagels-Minor denies sharing any data with the press.
Today Pagels-Minor cares less about Chappelle's special and more about the need for more diversity in storytelling.
"The greater point is, this is not to curb creative freedom, or to censor people," they say. "This is about widening the discussion to tell the complete story of other groups (who are) being unduly hurt by this type of content."
Pagels-Minor started their career at Netflix in March 2020 and led both transgender and the Black employee resource groups.
They knew from the get-go Netflix had content issues. "In fact, it's one of the reasons I took the job," they say. What better place to work – as a product manager building data products – than one where they could advocate for how content was affecting people?
Pagels-Minor says they received a heads up Chappelle's new special was coming out, without any specifics.
In reaction to the special, Pagels-Minor initially called for a trans day of rest on Oct. 20.
"The community was suffering so greatly that I just thought that it made a lot of sense to say, 'Hey, on this day, trans folks shouldn't work, and that our allies should go through the process of educating themselves and learning more about trans culture,'" Pagels-Minor says.
But then came Sarandos' emails, one of which claimed content doesn't lead to real-world harm (he has since walked that back). After the transgender employee resource group voted internally, they planned a walkout instead, which was supported by a rally of allies last Wednesday outside Netflix offices in Hollywood.
"The company was not taking to heart how hurtful the content was," Pagels-Minor says.
Netflix's transgender employees say executives at the streaming service dismissed their concerns that Chappelle's controversial comments in "The Closer" could lead to violence against the trans community.
Netflix ultimately released a statement saying the company supported employees who chose to participate in the walk out.
On the day of the walkout, the group's list of demands presented to Netflix executives included "making long-term investments in content from trans, non-binary, and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) creators; fully inclusive spaces for trans and LGBTQ BIPOC employees; and accountability when content causes harm," according to a Twitter post by GLAAD, the LGBTQ advocacy group.
Would Pagels-Minor work for a media company again?
"I'm going to wait several months after that baby comes before I look for a job," they say. "But the first thing I thought was, 'Oh, I should check out Hulu and HBO Max because I watch those so much.'"
Contributing: Charles Trepany and Marco della Cava, USA TODAY
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dave Chappelle reacts to fallout as fired Netflix employee speaks out