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Dave Chappelle Wins Grammy for Netflix Special Condemned for Being Transphobic

By Abbey White,


Dave Chappelle won best comedy album at the 2023 Grammys for his most recent special The Closer , which received backlash over material focused on the transgender community.

The comedian took the honor Sunday over Louis C.K. ( Sorry ), Jim Gaffigan ( Comedy Monster ), Randy Rainbow ( A Little Brains, A Little Talent ) and Patton Oswalt ( We All Scream ). The award serves as Chappelle’s fourth Grammy and follows C.K.’s controversial win last year for Sincerely Louis CK , his first comedy album since his sexual misconduct revelations.

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Chappelle was not in attendance during the Grammys Premiere Ceremony, where the comedy album prize and many of the other Grammy awards this year were presented, so presenter Babyface accepted the award on his behalf.

After Chappelle and C.K. were nominated for the 2023 Grammys, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. told The Hollywood Reporter in part, “We don’t control who the voters vote for.”

“If the voters feel like a creator deserves a nomination, they’re going to vote for them,” Mason jr. said, addressing controversial nominees. “We’re never going to be in the business of deciding someone’s moral position or where we evaluate them to be on the scale of morality. I think our job is to evaluate the art and the quality of the art. We can make sure that all of our spaces are safe and people don’t feel threatened by anyone. But as far as the nominations or the awards, we really let the voters make that decision.”

The Closer , which was nominated for two Emmys, debuted on Netflix on Oct. 5, 2021 and quickly sparked backlash. Elements of the hourlong comedy show were criticized for being transphobic and homophobic.

During the special, Chappelle defends DaBaby following the rapper’s homophobic rant, which resulted in the artist being dropped from numerous festivals. And he declares he is “team TERF” — using the acronym for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist,” an ideology that excludes trans women as women — while aligning himself with Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who has taken public anti-trans stances. Chappelle also received criticism specifically from the Black LGBTQ community for not acknowledging that queer and trans people are not just white while discussing racism within the LGBTQ community.

Just days after the special dropped and was met with criticism — including statements from GLAAD and the National Black Justice Coalition — Chappelle received a standing ovation during an A-List attended screening of his doc, Untitled: Dave Chappelle Documentary , at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. “If this is what being canceled is like, I love it,” he said at the time. “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.”

But the special would be met with real-life criticism offline as well. In the wake of the backlash to The Closer , Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos told staff in two memos that he stood by the special, would not be pulling it from the platform and that “content onscreen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”

In response, a number of Netflix employees participated in a virtual walkout , which coincided with a public rally at the streamer’s Los Angeles offices.

Sarandos would eventually walk back some of his earlier staff messages, acknowledging that what he said “lacked humanity” and that “content onscreen can have impact in the real world, positive and negative.” But he would reiterate his previous stance that the special was in line with the streamer’s stance toward “artistic expression” and told THR he didn’t think it was “appropriate” to add any disclaimer at the top of the special.

Following the walkout and Sarandos’ comments, Chappelle denied that he refused to meet with trans employees and said he was willing to sit down with members of the trans community who had seen the special in full.

While some of Chappelle’s Hollywood friends publicly supported him in the wake of the controversial special, creatives such as Dear White People showrunner Jaclyn Moore swore they would no longer work with Netflix.

The Closer was part of a $60 million four-special deal between Chappelle and Netflix, which also saw him release Equanimity & The Bird Revelation and Sticks & Stones — the latter of which faced its own backlash over material criticized for being transphobic. In February 2022, Netflix announced another four specials with Chappelle as host , this time a series, Chappelle’s Home Team, with each special featuring a different comic.

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