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Trans ex-Netflix employee talks Chappelle, 'Closer' controversy
by Andrew Davis

This article shared 1795 times since Thu Oct 28, 2021
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The Closer, Dave Chappelle's latest special for Netflix, has caused considerable controversy—especially for members of the LGBTQ+ community, many of whom say the production contains transphobic jokes.

Among those who were (and still are) protesting Chappelle are members of Trans*, Netflix's employee resource group. On Oct. 20, a walkout with more than 100 protesters and allies was held; according to Variety, a "Stand Up in Solidarity With Team Trans* at Netflix!" video was released that same day that includes appearances by Ashlee Marie Preston, Jonathan Van Ness, Angelica Ross, Jameela Jamil, Mason Alexander Park, Kate Bornstein, Our Lady J, Sara Ramirez, Peppermint and Colton Haynes.

One member of that employee group was thought leader B. Pagels-Minor, a program manager who was let go for allegedly "sharing confidential, commercially sensitive information outside the company" to a media company—something Pagels-Minor denies.

Panels-Minor, who still has ties to Chicago, spoke with Windy City Times about Netflix, The Closer, Chappelle and their own future (which includes a baby).

Windy City Times: Before we dive into the heart of the matter, could you tell our readers about your connections to Chicago?

Pagels-Minor: I first arrived in Chicago in 2006, and went to Northwestern University. I stayed in the city until 2018. I did a little of everything, like women's and open men's leagues for CMSA [the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association] for softball; I was an intern for the Lesbian Community Care Project; I was on the advisory board for Howard Brown Health, and I've been on Howard Brown's board of directors for seven years; and I'm on the boards of directors for YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago and the Northwestern Alumni Association.

WCT: Regarding The Closer, was that the breaking point for you at Netflix? Had other things happened that led up to the walkout—or was this something you saw and just couldn't take?

P-M: Well, it's interesting. First and foremost, I think The Closer was the catalyst for [the break] between the community and the trans community at Netflix. But it was actually the follow-up—when concerns were raised about the content of The Closer—that the true breaking point occurred. Those are the things that were leaked to Variety and some other places about Ted's [co-CEO Ted Sarandos'] memos about his thoughts and how he wanted to respond to complaints from internal employees.

Ted's response was, essentially, "You don't understand comedy. You're not mature enough to understand the nuances of this. Netflix employees aren't smart enough to get this." And that was very un-Netflix-y; Netflix isn't that type of organization. Usually, you can write a memo and say, "This didn't make sense to me and this is why," and we can move on—but that didn't happen here. That was the breaking point.

WCT: Out of curiosity, what initially drew you to Netflix?

P-M: Well, I've had two roles at Netflix, and I was a senior data product manager. My former manager reached out to me at about 11 p.m. in October or November of 2019. He said, "I Googled you. You have such an interesting background. Would you like to work on my team?" We met for coffee, and the very first thing he asked me was what my pronouns are, "to be respectful of you." It was the first time any manager had asked me that question. I thought, "I might want to work here." I thought he saw my whole identity. My former company was pretty cool, but I didn't feel like I could be my whole self all the time.

WCT: And just to be clear, what's your current status with Netflix?

P-M: I was terminated on Oct. 14. My current status is that I'm a free agent who's growing and healing.

Essentially, they thought I was the individual who leaked information to publications.

WCT: Which you say wasn't true?

P-M: Correct.

WCT: So have you seen all of The Closer?

P-M: So, I didn't watch the whole thing. What I did was read the transcript, and I've seen a number of the clips.

I am not the person who is the target of a Chappelle special. It has nothing to do with transphobia; I've always struggled with his misogyny. So I didn't feel the need to watch video footage, other than the clips I've seen.

WCT: If you had a one-on-one with Dave, what would you say to him?

P-M: "Hey, Dave: The thing about all the stuff you're saying is that it seems to come from a lack of education, right? I think you're a smart person, and you probably don't think what you're doing is harmful—but let's take a walk down the road of education."

First and foremost, for instance, the special seems to miss that Black trans people exist. It literally pits the "gays"—which he seems to connote as being white—against the Black community. And there is a ton of us in both categories, and we disagree that it's all that simple. Intersectionality is a very complicated thing.

I also think that if he talked with Black LGBTQ+ people, the first thing people say is that they don't see a difference between the civil-rights and LGBTQ+[-rights] movements. They're very tied together. In fact, when you look at the Supreme Court case that granted same-sex marriage, they alluded to Loving v. Virginia because it's about this idea of equity and equality. We should be talking about how to unify ourselves against the actual powers that be.

Then, I would ask him if he's ever read anything about the biology of trans people. Because when he talks about the fake vaginas, I was just, like, "Man… Wow." It's disturbing commentary—and he obviously doesn't understand what people go through. I feel like if he just talked to people, you would never belittle something the way he did. It all just comes back to education—so that the next time you do a special, it would actually be funny.

Trans stuff can be hilarious. For instance, when I first got pregnant I saw the OB-GYN. She asked, "Where's your wife?" and I said, "No—it's me. I'm the pregnant person." She was so confused and nervous. I was, like, "Girl, whatever. I know I look masculine but I have a vagina, and this baby is going to come out of this vagina." So there is hilarity in the community, but it starts with understanding the community. Then, we can get to the point that Dave said—not talking about us anymore until we can laugh together. I would love to get to that point. It takes too much energy for us to fight each other.

WCT: What do you say to those who say that the situation is another sign of "cancel culture?" I know that Caitlyn Jenner recently defended Dave Chappelle, citing that very reason.

P-M: Oh, my gosh—I cannot say enough about how people miss the point there. Anyone who has mentioned cancelling Dave is not a Netflix Trans* employee; that's not the desire there. The desire is to create parity in content, and to educate people about trans experiences. If it was about cancel culture, he wouldn't have a sold-out tour right now. This is all blown out of proportion, and it's not the goal of Netflix's Trans* group.

WCT: Netflix came out with a statement supporting trans employees, but do you feel like the company truly has the employees' backs?

P-M: No, not necessarily. Before I was terminated, one of the concerns I brought up was the fact some of the employees were being identified and harassed online. The question was: How are you going to protect people? Your actions/inactions are causing real-world harm and suffering.

I do think Netflix has a long way to go to prove it cares about employees. There's nothing wrong with focusing on having great relationships with talent and wanting to entertain the world. However, you also should value your employees and take care of them. There's a push and pull that has to happen for the company to be successful. It's the best media-technology company in the world—and that happens by having these diverse employees who will have different opinions and who will need different types of support.

WCT: So what's in the future for B.?

P-M: So, I'm going to have this baby next month—and then I'm going to figure out how to deal with having a baby. It's going to be a big learning curve, and I might have to write some blog posts about what I've learned. After that, I'll take a look at the market and figure out what I want to do; I'm fortunate that I've built this network not just in California, but in Chicago as well. I've literally been amazed at the outpouring of support I've received, and I'm looking forward to the next challenge.

WCT: Would you like to add anything?

P-M: I just want to say one more time that what is so concerning is the lack of understanding of trans lives. When you think about the upcoming Trans Day of Remembrance [Nov. 20], something like two-thirds of that list are Black trans people—and that's only the people we know of, right? There are so many people who die, and we never know who they were. That's the thing I think is so harmful about this: We're forgetting about how dangerous it is for Black trans people to exist in this world.

That's the thing I think I was most disgusted by. A Black man was helping to further erasure of this community—and I don't think he understands he's doing that. That's why this is so much about education.

This article shared 1795 times since Thu Oct 28, 2021
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