Netflix bosses braced for an employee walkout and rally in Los Angeles on Wednesday as anger swelled over a recent Dave Chappelle comedy special that activists say is harmful to the transgender community within the company and elsewhere.
The streaming company has found itself embroiled in an intense and highly public controversy over Chappelle's The Closer, in which the stand-up star insists “gender is a fact” and accuses LGBTQ people of being “too sensitive".
“A list of firm asks” will be presented to Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos at the rally, which organiser Ashlee Marie Preston said on Tuesday had been moved to a larger site due to “overwhelming demand".
"We respect the decision of any employee who chooses to walk out, and recognize we have much more work to do both within Netflix and in our content," Netflix said in a statement to news organisations, which said the company "understands the deep hurt that's been caused."
An official social media account from Netflix tweeted their involvement in the walkout.
On Twitter, the hashtag #NetflixWalkout ranked high for US top trends.
Organizers intend to present a list of "firm asks" to Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos at Wednesday morning's rally, which leader Ashlee Marie Preston earlier said had been moved to a larger site due to "overwhelming demand."
The event will call for content that prioritizes "the safety and dignity of all marginalized communities," she wrote on Instagram.
A transgender employee resource group at Netflix released a list of demands for the company before the rally.
“We want the company to adopt measures in the areas of content investment, employee relations and safety, and harm reduction, all of which are necessary to avoid future instances of platforming transphobia and hate speech,” the group said in a press release acquired by The Verge.
The list of demands includes measures to develop transgender and non-binary talent, recruiting transgender people for executive roles and adding disclaimers before transphobic titles, among others, the press release states.
Chappelle's special was not mentioned in the list of demands.
“A place can't be a great place to work if someone has to betray their community to do so,” transgender Netflix employee Terra Field wrote in a blog post on Monday.
The Closer has been condemned by LGBTQ groups, which cited studies linking stereotypes about minorities to real-world harm.
In an interview with Variety on the eve of the walkout, Mr Sarandos admitted he “should have led with a lot more humanity” in responses to Netflix employees.
“I had a group of employees who were definitely feeling pain and hurt from a decision we made,” he said.
Last week, Mr Sarandos wrote to staff that “content on screen doesn't directly translate to real-world harm”, and emphasised the importance of defending “artistic freedom".
Three employees including Ms Field were reportedly suspended after crashing a virtual meeting for executives over the episode, but were later reinstated.
Another was sacked for leaking internal data about the cost of the episode.
Chappelle has been accused of mocking transgender people in the past, but remains hugely popular.
In The Closer, he describes a US rapper who “punched the LGBTQ community right in the Aids”, compares transgender women to the use of blackface, and jokes about threatening to kill a woman and stash her body in his car.
The comedian — who is black — also argues that white gay people “are minorities until they need to be white again” and that LGBTQ communities have made progress in a few years that black people have not enjoyed in decades.