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Dave Chappelle has faced mounting criticism from members of the LGBTQ+ community over his remarks about transgenderism in his recent comedy specials for Netflix.
Equal rights and LGBTQ+ activists have attempted to boycott and lobby venues to cancel his comedy performances. On Wednesday, First Avenue, a prominent Minneapolis venue that has hosted celebrities like Prince, canceled Chappelle’s stand-up show hours before he was due on stage. After initially inviting him, the theater faced criticism from progressive activists on social media because they say Chappelle’s comedy material is transphobic. First Avenue released a statement apologizing and vowed to make their venues “the safest spaces in the country.”
“To staff, artists and our community, we hear you and we are sorry. We know we must hold ourselves to the highest standards, and we know we let you down. We are not just a black box with people in it, and we understand that First Ave is not just a room, but meaningful beyond our walls,” the venue said in a statement released on Twitter. “The First Avenue team and you have worked hard to make our venues the safest spaces in the country, and we will continue with that mission. We believe in diverse voices and the freedom of artistic expression, but in honoring that, we lost sight of the impact this would have.”
Why is his Netflix comedy special controversial?
The opposition the comedian faces from the LBGTQ+ community originates from a comedy special released in October of last year on Netflix. In “The Closer,” Chapelle spends a significant amount of time discussing his views on transgender people. At one point, he states “gender is a fact” and defends “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling by claiming he is “team TERF,” an acronym that means standing for trans-exclusionary radical feminist. The special received outrage, poor reviews from transgender activists, and condemnation from employees inside Netflix.
After the special’s release, Netflix employees staged a walkout at the company headquarters. One Netflix employee reportedly leaked sensitive material that revealed how much Chappelle was paid for the special.
How did Netflix respond?
After the initial backlash, the streaming service stood by Chappelle and released a memo that told its employees to leave the company if they were offended by the comedy special. The company conceded that some of its programmings might be offensive and problematic, but it would not censor artists.
“As employees we support the principle that Netflix offers a diversity of stories, even if we find some titles counter to our own personal values,” Netflix stated in the memo. “Depending on your role, you may need to work on titles you perceive to be harmful…If you’d find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the best place for you.”
Moreover, last June, the CEO of Netflix, Ted Sarandos, defended the company’s decision not to fire or remove Chappelle’s material and called him the “comedian of our generation.” He also noted that comedians have to joke about taboo subjects by “crossing the line every once in a while.”
“It was an opportunity to take somebody, like in Dave’s case, who is, by all measure, the comedian of our generation, the most popular comedian on Netflix for sure,” Sarandos told the New York Times. “Nobody would say that what he does isn’t thoughtful or smart. You just don‘t agree with him.”
How much did Chappelle make from Netflix?
Chappelle was reportedly paid $60 million in a deal he secured with Netflix in 2016 to deliver three standup specials for the streaming service. He lives on a 65-acre farm near Yellow Springs, Ohio with his wife, Elaine, and their three children.