Trans employee urges Netflix to ‘stop pretending transphobia in media has no effect on society’
A trans Netflix employee has said Dave Chappelle’s controversial comedy special is a symptom but not the cause of “a culture that marginalises and devalues trans people”.
Terra Field, a senior software engineer at the streaming giant, hit out at Dave Chappelle and Netflix in a Twitter thread that quickly went viral in the days after his latest comedy special was released on 5 October.
Chappelle has faced widespread criticism over the stand-up routine, in which he makes jokes about trans women’s genitals and defends DaBaby and JK Rowling before declaring himself “Team TERF”.
Field was later suspended from her position at Netflix after she tried to “attend a director-level meeting” she hadn’t been invited to. She was later reinstated, and she has since explained why she felt the need to speak out against the streamer in an essay posted to Medium.
In an article titled “It was never about Dave”, Field reflected on what it was like to work for Netflix when Chappelle’s first comedy special Sticks & Stones was released two years ago.
That comedy special inspired Field to write a memo called “Offense vs. Impact”, which argued that trans people were not “offended” by Chappelle’s comments – they were instead concerned about the “impact” he could have on the community.
Field’s memo, which named each of the trans people who had been murdered up until that point in 2019, helped to change the “internal conversation” and helped people to “understand” the issues facing the trans community.
I work at @netflix. Yesterday we launched another Chappelle special where he attacks the trans community, and the very validity of transness – all while trying to pit us against other marginalized groups. You're going to hear a lot of talk about "offense".
We are not offended ?
— Terra Field (@RainofTerra) October 7, 2021
Therefore, Field was disappointed when Chappelle’s new comedy special The Closer was released and “the same conversation started again”. The stilted dialogue, which once again focused on trans staff feeling “offended”, left Field feeling that the work she did in 2019 was “meaningless”.
That discussion prompted Field to adapt her “Offense vs. Impact” memo for Twitter. It quickly went viral when she posted it as a thread.
Backlash isn’t even really about Dave Chappelle, Netflix employee says
Writing on Medium, Field said she wanted to “clear up some things” about her Twitter thread. She said her goal was not to “cancel Chappelle”, adding that her criticism wasn’t even really directed at the comedian.
“Dave is not, and has never been, the cause of this problem – he is a symptom of it. That Dave believes the things he says and can say them with relative impunity is a result of the culture we live in: a culture that marginalises and devalues trans people,” Field wrote.
“He contributes to that culture in a very real way, but at least he isn’t out there bragging about how many LGBTQ+ allyship awards he has won while he is doing it.”
The engineer went on to write that she has spent much of her time at Netflix trying to open people’s eyes to issues around privilege and disadvantage.
“Often, the people who make decisions in the industry about content at the highest levels (what gets predicted, how it is framed, and how it is promoted/marketed) check most of all of these boxes – and almost none of them are trans,” Field wrote.
“So when a company like Netflix says something like, ‘We do not believe this content is harmful to the transgender community,’ you can be virtually certain that not a single trans person was involved in that decision.”
Closing out her essay, Field said she “wouldn’t be sad” to see Chappelle’s comedy special removed from Netflix, but she added that having it axed is not her goal. She suggested that removing The Closer, at this point, would “only bring more attention to it and more accusations of whatever the hell ‘cancel culture’ means this week”.
She went on to ask Netflix to “stop pretending transphobia in media has no effect on society” and to “acknowledge the disproportionate effect this has on marginalised communities”.
Field also urged Netflix staffers to put content warnings at the start of existing anti-trans material and to actively encourage people watch “queer and trans content” after consuming transphobic material.
“A place can’t be a great place to work if someone has to betray their community to do so,” she wrote.
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