Jermaine Reed, MFA is a college professor and writer from Chicago, who creates fiction, nonfiction and local and national news stories. Please join Jermaine’s email list to get notifications on new blog posts, writing advice and free books. Get his recently released Science Fiction novel A Glitch in Humanity by clicking here. Follow J Reed on Twitter @jreed913 . Check out The Reeders Block Podcast and subscribe there to hear more.
Dave Chappelle speaks controversy as a second language. In many of his stand-ups, Chappelle attacks cancel culture. In his Netflix special Sticks and Stones, Chappelle does an impression of a group of people attacking a comedian for saying something controversial. He then tells the audience the impression is of them; as fans have cancelled the great Kevin Hart, Chappelle’s argument is, one day his loyal fans will do the same to him. He believes that those who practice cancel culture are too sensitive, have too much power and that they should relax a little. However, with his new Netflix special The Closer, many are wondering if his own predictions of being cancelled are now coming true.
In The Closer, after mentioning J.K. Rowling’s being cancelled for what some deemed anti-trans ideas, Chappelle defends the author of the Harry Potter novels, while asserting that he himself is a TERF: Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. He goes on to say “gender is a fact”. This view is directly opposite of those who believe gender is a social construct used unfairly to dictate the roles of people based on a gender that was assigned to them at birth.
Furthermore, Chappelle says he wants to “negotiate the release of [the rapper] DaBaby”, who recently took some financial hits because of disparaging comments concerning the LGBTQ+ community. Chappelle downplays DaBaby’s words and argues for his inclusion in the music industry.
Following The Closer special, backlash reigned down on Chappelle in the form of Netflix employees storming a meeting in which Chappelle was a part of. The streaming guru suspended said employees. This being seen as an attempt by the company to silence the voice of trans people, the move did not sit well with many. Shortly thereafter, at least one of the employees was reinstated, but some of the employees are planning a walkout to boycott Netflix.
Up until this point, Netflix has defended Dave Chappelle, arguing that comedy is supposed to push the boundaries and that none of it is about discrimination or bigotry. The company further argued that what it produces as comedy does not reflect its values or workplace environment.
To protect himself and Netflix, Chappelle strategically released The Closer last in his installment of specials. Although the comedian has previously made jokes about the trans community, none have been as boundary-pushing as the jokes in The Closer. Chappelle has already been paid, and he does not have to worry about an upcoming special being boycotted in the near-future. Also, in this final Netflix special, Chappelle said this would be his last for a while. So, what happens next?
The above noted, Dave Chappelle likely knew the potential fallout from his comments. That is why he hinted previously that at some point, fans would turn on him or want to cancel him. However, Netflix is fighting up a slippery slope. How does it strike a balance between defending Chappelle while also ensuring its viewers will not experience bigotry at its hands? There are a few possibilities.
Firstly, Netflix could continue its defense of Dave Chappelle and risk losing a significant number of subscribers. This is unlikely. Though the company initially defended Chappelle, executives made sure to note that Dave Chappelle’s comedy is just comedy and does not reflect the company’s views towards the trans community.
Also, the company could pull Chappelle’s specials and bury them, while issuing an apology for the material. This could be a likelihood. After suspending activists for barging in on the Chappelle meeting, the company quickly reinstated at least one of the suspended employees. This shows a crack in the company’s resolve in defending Chappelle. It seems that the fire of cancel culture is turning up the heat on the streaming giant. But what about Chappelle?
Chappelle is one person. He is not a company. His fears are not losing an entire company. With a fanbase as loyal as his, being cancelled is not a strong likelihood. Whether it is through another streaming company or a cable company, Chappelle’s ability to bring revenue is undeniable. In many cases, some companies value return over human equity.
Moreover, the question becomes, where is the line between comic and bigot drawn? Toward the end of The Closer, Chappelle vowed to stop making jokes about the trans community until he is sure he, his audience and every community are laughing together. Though he made these “jokes” under the guise of comedy, some believe he actually holds a disparaging attitude towards the trans community and that his remarks may incite violence against trans people. Is Chappelle right for cracking jokes and pushing boundaries or wrong for seemingly perpetuating negative stereotypes about gender and gender identity in regards to the trans community?
The question remains though: Is cancel culture strong enough to take down Dave Chappelle? Should he be cancelled for what some see as bigoted, dangerous remarks about the trans community, or should he be given a comedic pass? Whatever the case may be, while some laughed deeply while watching The Closer, a number of people didn’t find it so funny.
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