Dave Chappelle’s off-colour remarks go too far

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Isn’t wearing clothing with your name on it supposed to be an athlete thing? What’s going on here Dave? John Bauld via Flickr

Chappelle’s show The Closer could be the “closer” of his career

Since the first half of October Netflix has been on the news, and not in a way the streaming platform would prefer to be. On October 5, Netflix released a comedy special by one of the most famous stand-up comics in the world today: Dave Chappelle. Anyone who is familiar with Chappelle probably knows to expect a substantial number of off-color jokes from him, often ones making light of real issues affecting real people to get a laugh out of the audience.

However, the general feeling is that his recent special, The Closer, went too far. In fact, Chappelle was clearly not just going for a joke. He asserted that gender being synonymous with sex is a fact, and that people are crazy for criticizing J.K. Rowling for saying as much on her social media. He also proclaimed that he is on team TERF, an acronym for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist – which, simply put, refers to people who do not believe that transgender women are women.

This is also not the first time Chappelle has made overt transphobic statements. In a previous comedy show in 2019, he said transgender people are “confusing”. In 2016, he made statements against the right of trans people to access facilities commensurate with their gender. Further, he had also expressed support for former President Donald Trump’s ban on allowing transgender people into the military.

All of this shows a pattern, which also means that neither Netflix nor Chappelle himself get to use the defense that it was just a joke. As a Netflix employee pointed out, Chappelle is not making the odd joke about trans people and their struggles – he is denying their very existence and has on multiple occasions offered his opinion about an issue on which he is unlikely to be better informed than the many academics that acknowledge the validity of the transgender community.

Faced with significant backlash, Netflix originally defended the decision to air the show, claiming that “content on screen does not directly translate to real-world harm” and also citing the importance of “artistic freedom.” More recently, however, the Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos has conceded that he could have dealt with the situation better, and that he should have been more mindful of the disappointment and pain his employees felt about the situation. While still contending that Chappelle’s statements are not hate speech, he has mentioned that the streaming platform will be mindful of drawing the line on provocation to harm a community or deny them their rights.

On October 20, 2021, members of the trans employee resource group at Netflix staged a walkout in protest of how Netflix had been handling the situation, and have also released a number of demands, including “measures to avoid future instances of platforming transphobia and hate speech.” This walkout was the culmination of a continual escalation of this situation, which included the suspension and subsequent firing of one transgender employee who tweeted a thread aimed at the company’s decision to continue to provide a platform for anti-trans content.

As of October 22, 2021, the controversial show is still on air, and Netflix has not shown any indication of changing their stance on it. Comedian Jon Stewart has recently expressed support for Chappelle, saying that his intention was not to be hurtful. Chappelle himself has claimed that he is willing to have conversations with members of the trans community who feel that they have been put in harm’s way due to his jokes.

As of October 21, his team says that no one from Netflix has approached them to set up a meeting. However, the employee group that organized the walkout claims they have. Chappelle has also gone on record urging that both sides apparently need to be more respectful of the other and has mentioned the rise of “cancel culture” in particular. It remains to be seen how the situation evolves, but at present it appears that Netflix management have no intention of taking the show off of their platform.

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