In Dave Chappelle’s new Netflix special The Closer, he makes several jokes about transgendered people and identifies as a trans-exclusionary radical feminist, calling himself “Team TERF.” The set has been roundly criticized by GLAAD, the National Black Justice Coalition, and members of the LGBTQ community, but as The Hollywood Reporter notes, Chappelle received a standing ovation at his October 7th appearance at The Hollywood Bowl. He shared a bill with Jon Hamm, Snoop Dogg, Nas, Stevie Wonder, and Lizzo, and performed for a crowd that included Brad Pitt and Tiffany Haddish. “If this is what being canceled is,” Chappelle said, “I love it.”
The Thursday night appearance came in support of a screening of Untitled: Dave Chappelle Documentary, a 118-minute look at his 2020 Summer Camp series of socially-distanced comedy shows in Ohio. In introducing the film, Chappelle told the crowd, “Fuck Twitter. Fuck NBC News, ABC News, all these stupid ass networks. I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to you. This is real life.”
Chappelle’s opinions on what is ‘real’ and what is not are at the heart of the controversy. In The Closer, Chappelle says, “Gender is a fact. Every human being in this room, every human being on Earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on Earth. That is a fact.”
He seems to be using the word “gender,” as a synonym for biological sex. But the concept of “gender identity” — a person’s individual sense of themselves as a man, woman, nonbinary, or other — has existed for millennia in Western, Eastern, African, and indigenous cultures. Themes of gender transformation appear in Shakespeare’s plays and a variety of ancient Greek texts. For thousands of years up until today, many people have felt that their personal gender identity differs from the sex to which they were assigned at birth. But as Chappelle has made clear, he does not consider these feelings to be valid.
In his special, Chappelle also defends anti-trans activist JK Rowling, and said of TERFs, “They look at trans women the way we Blacks might look at Blackface.”
In response, GLAAD posted a statement on Twitter: “Dave Chappelle’s brand has become synonymous with ridiculing trans people and other marginalized communities. Negative reviews and viewers loudly condemning his latest special is a message to the industry that audiences don’t support platforming anti-LGBTQ diatribes. We agree.”
The NBJC called for Netflix to pull The Closer. “With 2021 on track to be the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the United States — the majority of whom are Black transgender people — Netflix should know better,” NBJC executive director David Johns wrote in a statement. “Perpetuating transphobia perpetuates violence. Netflix should immediately pull The Closer from its platform and directly apologize to the transgender community.”
During his October 7th appearance at The Hollywood Bowl, Chappelle poked fun at the concept of cancel culture while steering clear of his most controversial jokes. And despite his critical, even antagonist tone towards the trans community, he tried to spread a message of love. “Do something nice for someone who looks nothing like you,” he told the crowd. “We have to trust one another.”
Last month, Chappelle performed a short tour with noted COVID-19 vaccine skeptic Joe Rogan.
Dave Chappelle's brand has become synonymous with ridiculing trans people and other marginalized communities. Negative reviews and viewers loudly condemning his latest special is a message to the industry that audiences don't support platforming anti-LGBTQ diatribes. We agree. https://t.co/yOIyT54819Advertisement
— GLAAD (@glaad) October 6, 2021