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Netflix fires employee for sharing information about Dave Chappelle’s special amid LGBTQ backlash

Dave Chappelle appears in his latest Netflix comedy special, “The Closer.” (Mathieu Bitton/Netflix) (Mathieu Bitton/Netflix)
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Netflix fired an employee who leaked “confidential” and “commercially sensitive” information regarding Dave Chappelle’s latest stand-up special, the company said Friday, after backlash from the LGBTQ community over recent onstage remarks made by the comedian were criticized as transphobic.

The firing of the employee, who was not publicly identified by the streaming giant, came days before a Netflix employee walkout planned in response to Chappelle’s special, “The Closer,” which has generated intense public furor in recent days for including comments by the comedian that LGBTQ advocacy groups say could incite harm against transgender people. The news was first reported by the Verge.

Netflix confirmed the person’s firing in a statement and said the employee had released data that appeared in a Bloomberg News article detailing that the company spent $24.1 million on Chappelle’s special. A review of the company’s internal access logs pinpointed the information to a single person, who “admitted that they downloaded and shared sensitive company information externally,” Netflix said.

“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,” Netflix said.

The firing occurs at a tenuous time for Netflix in the days since the release of “The Closer.” Advocacy groups such as GLAAD and the National Black Justice Coalition have condemned the special and demanded that it be removed from Netflix’s offerings. Jaclyn Moore, the showrunner of the Netflix series “Dear White People,” said last week that she would no longer work with the platform “as long as they continue to put out and profit from blatantly and dangerously transphobic content.”

Netflix had previously suspended three employees for crashing a digital meeting among the company’s executives. One of those employees, Terra Field, a software engineer who is transgender and criticized the Chappelle special on Twitter, said Tuesday she had been reinstated. Field voiced her displeasure with the news of her co-worker’s dismissal.

“I am furious about it,” she tweeted Friday.

During the special, Chappelle joked about transgender genitalia, said “gender is a fact” and told his audience he was on “team TERF,” an acronym for trans-exclusionary radical feminist. The comedian also defended J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, who has been criticized for making statements seen as transphobic. Chappelle has joked about the transgender community in the past, including in his 2019 special, “Sticks & Stones.”

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Since it was released Oct. 1, the special, Chappelle’s sixth with Netflix, has at least 10 million views, according to the Associated Press. As of Saturday morning, “The Closer” was the fifth-most-watched show on Netflix. Although its Rotten Tomatoes score from critics is 43 percent, audiences gave the special a score of 96 out of 100.

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GLAAD, a media watchdog group, accused the Chappelle program of having “anti-LGBTQ content” that violates Netflix’s policy to reject programs inciting hate or violence. The National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights advocacy group, called on Netflix immediately to pull the special and “directly apologize to the transgender community.”

Ted Sarandos, the streaming giant’s co-CEO, has defended the comedian and has said the streaming platform will not remove “The Closer,” telling managers in an internal memo that the stand-up program doesn’t cross “the line on hate.” Sarandos cited “creative freedom” as one reason the company will not take it down. He acknowledged that although some people may find Chappelle’s stand-up to be “mean-spirited,” “our members enjoy it, and it’s an important part of our content offering.”

“Chappelle is one of the most popular stand-up comedians today, and we have a long standing deal with him,” Sarandos added in an Oct. 8 memo obtained by news outlets. “His last special ‘Sticks & Stones,’ also controversial, is our most watched, stickiest and most award winning stand-up special to date.”

In his defense of Chappelle, Sarandos mentioned the work of comedian Hannah Gadsby as part of the platform’s efforts to “ensure marginalized communities aren’t defined by a single story.” Gadsby lashed out at Sarandos on Friday, writing on Instagram that she preferred “if you didn’t drag my name into your mess.”

“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 wor[l]d view,” Gadsby wrote. “You didn’t pay me nearly enough to deal with the real world consequences of the hate speech dog whistling you refuse to acknowledge, Ted.”

In the data that appeared in the Bloomberg report, Netflix spent $21.4 million on its latest hit series, “Squid Game,” and $3.9 million for comedian Bo Burnham’s 2021 special, “Inside.” The data shows that Chappelle’s “Sticks & Stones,” which cost $23.6 million, did not perform as well as Burnham’s “Inside” on an “efficiency” scale, according to Bloomberg.

Julian Mark contributed to this report.

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