DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:
The streaming giant Netflix continues to face a backlash over comedian Dave Chappelle's latest standup special. The greatest heat centers on jokes about and aimed at the transgender community, and Netflix staffers are among Chappelle's most vocal critics. Several dozen employees staged a walkout this past Wednesday in protest over the company's defense of Chappelle and of the special. And one of the organizers of the walkout has been singled out for attention. That's B. Pagels-Minor (ph). Netflix recently fired them, alleging they leaked, quote, "confidential, commercially sensitive information," unquote, to people outside the company. They denied that. B. Pagels-Minor. formerly co-led the trans and nonbinary employee resource group at Netflix, and they join us now. Welcome. And thanks for joining us.
B PAGELS-MINOR: Thank you for having me.
FOLKENFLIK: B., you first took a position with Netflix a few years back. Tell me, what was that job, and what excited you about joining the company?
PAGELS-MINOR: Yeah. So I actually was recruited initially in 2019 to take on the role of a senior data product manager. And so what the heck does that mean, right?
PAGELS-MINOR: So basically, I managed data products for Netflix, finance and membership data and things like that. And what really excited me was my manager. I was actually pretty happy at the company that I was at. And the manager reached out to me, and he had mentioned, he's like, I Googled you. You have such a diverse background. You're such an interesting person. And I think we need your kind of thought leadership in this space because we're trying to do some really radical things. And, in fact, when I first went in the very first time to talk to him, the first thing he said to me is, you know, may I know your pronouns? And in my entire career, no one ever asked me my pronouns to start off an interview. So I was greatly impressed with the level of acumen that he already had with someone like me who was transgender.
FOLKENFLIK: So what did you want to accomplish with Wednesday's walkout?
PAGELS-MINOR: So at first, it was going to be a peaceful let's take a day off so we can recuperate from a mental health perspective, but because the concerns were not being addressed, it became a we have to stand up for ourselves and fight for this because this is - this type of content is legitimately dangerous to us and the people that - our other trans siblings. And that's not something that's acceptable.
FOLKENFLIK: B., without in any way asking you to replicate the specific jokes Chappelle made, can you give a feel to our listeners of why what he had to say was so upsetting, so offensive, so harmful?
PAGELS-MINOR: So there's a number of different things here. So first of all, you know, I want to say that as a Black trans lesbian, someone who was assigned female at birth, a Southerner and someone who was socialized as a woman, I was offended for a few different reasons by some of the content because the content was very misogynistic. Like, he refers to, you know, women generally as b******, which to be truthful, is exceptionally disrespectful. He also, you know, pits the LGBTQ+ community where he essentially says the LGBTQ+ or the gays are all white against the civil rights movement, essentially saying, you know, the Black movement and saying that those - that the gays are trying to harm the civil rights movement without acknowledging that Black LGBTQ+ and Black trans people exist at that intersection, and again, to my point earlier, are far more likely to be harmed than Black people by themselves or LGBTQ+ people by themselves or trans people by themselves. It goes back to this level of danger - right? - because he's making whole assertions that are not factually true.
FOLKENFLIK: As I mentioned earlier, Netflix fired you a few days ago. The company alleges you either leaked confidential data that surfaced first publicly in an article in Bloomberg News or you were involved in that leak. This is data that shows how much Netflix paid for certain specials, what financial value it generates for the streaming service, pretty inside figures. First, let's get it on the record. Did you play any role in leaking those internal documents to the public?
FOLKENFLIK: You have said that you shared some to colleagues internally. Why share them at all?
PAGELS-MINOR: So ultimately, it became clear to me that the emotional see-us-as-humans conversation was not getting anywhere. So my hope was to create a really robust internal memo that really outlined clearly that there was economic value in diversifying content and specifically investing in trans content. And the supposition really is just simple. You're paying X amount of money for this over here. And true, it does give you, you know, publicity gives you a big splash, but you also are paying far cheaper over in this other place. And it actually is giving a much better return on investment, according to what the data says.
Why could we not then take some of that funding that we're doing for some of these huge names and make a hundred of these other types of specials, you know? And so that was the whole point was, like, creating this new narrative inside of Netflix about how trans content, how more diverse content could actually be a better economic driver long term.
FOLKENFLIK: Netflix paid - I think it was - $24 million for the Chappelle special. You know, it says, look, we're part of - what we offer is edgy and even offensive comedy as a kind of big tentpole that reminds viewers of the importance of our service. What about the argument made at times by people at the top of that company that people can always hit stop, people can always click on something entirely different, if it's not for you, that's fine?
PAGELS-MINOR: Oh, no, I totally agree with that argument. You know, and there's been enough Twitter trolls who've said the same thing.
FOLKENFLIK: You agree with it?
PAGELS-MINOR: Yeah, people can totally stop. This is about parity in content. This is not about taking down content. This is not trying to completely change the strategy that Netflix has. This is actually about expanding the strategy, making it more nimble and putting out more parity in content that could tell more stories that people would be interested in. Because the simple thing is, if too many people say stop, what else are they going to watch? So if you go ahead and put that down payment on other content that that group of people who do press stop love, then you are actually positioning yourself better as a company long term.
FOLKENFLIK: On Thursday night, Chappelle's spokesperson put out a statement to TMZ. It read, Dave stands by his art. No more jokes about transgenders until we can all laugh together. The streets are talking, and Dave is listening. At some point, when everyone is open, I'm sure the communities will come together.
What would you say to Dave Chappelle if the two of you were sitting down to talk or to connect on a Zoom call?
PAGELS-MINOR: So first and foremost, I would tell Dave that he and I probably have more in common than half the people he hangs out with on a daily basis. I'm a Black kid from a small town who's somehow ended up in this Hollywood thing, right? And to be truthful, I am also - as a Black person, I love to see successful Black people. Like, I have no interest whatsoever in limiting the opportunities for people to pursue what they love. And all I would really want him to do is get to know me and get to know the fact that Black trans people exist, that intersectionality is a real thing. And then I would hope that, you know, if we talked about it, maybe the next time he makes a special because he's more educated about trans people and Black trans people, that I would be able to laugh with him.
FOLKENFLIK: We've been hearing from B. Pagels-Minor. They're a former co-leader of Netflix's trans and non-binary employee resource group. They were fired by the company amid backlash to Dave Chappelle's latest standup special. B. Pagels-Minor, Thanks so much for sharing your time and your perspective.
PAGELS-MINOR: Thank you.
FOLKENFLIK: After our interview, we reached out to Netflix for comment about the walkout. In an email to NPR, a spokesperson wrote the following - quote, "we value our trans colleagues analyze and understand the deep hurt that's been caused. 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."
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