Still Reflection 2: Chappelle’s Netflix Special


Dave Chappelle’s two part Netflix special, Equanimity and The Bird Revelation, does not shy away from discussing some of today’s, as well as the past’s, most controversial issues. His viewpoints are not always agreed with, which is evident is the audience’s reactions. Trans-issues and their perception in today’s society, alternative opinions on the “Me Too” movement, and race and gender inequalities rooted in our culture were included. The methods in which he presented his jokes and sketches were very meticulous, so much so, in fact, that he influenced the manner in which the viewers felt toward topics and himself.

Current issues regarding transgenders and trans-rights are thought of as a “sensitive topic” for some, which may contribute to its inclusion in the special. Stemming from an antidote about a fan letter, Chappelle discusses an account he had with a transgender. The words he uses while telling the story, as well as his body language, initially portrayed a somewhat disapproving mindset. He elaborates about a “wild night” he had while out at clubs in which he unknowingly danced, and eventually had relationships, with a trans woman. Not taking her sensitivity seriously, he played off her reason for not being upfront regarding her sexuality as unjust and unthought of. This demonstrates an internal theme that is present in our culture today, which is the overall uneasiness and expectation of being told, as if it is someone’s right to know about another’s personal choices. Her response of not wanting to ruin the night because she was having “such a good time” seemed to not justify her actions for him. Transitioning to a more well famous example to further his bit, he discusses Caitlyn Jenner and a rumor he had heard about her nude modeling. His reaction after introducing the rumor was one word: “Yuck!.” Chappelle jokes about how he “isn’t strong enough NOT to look at the pictures”, which can be taken several ways. Possibly revealing uncertainties about his own sexuality, or labeling the photos as being so taboo that he must look among other reasons. This undermines the strides taken toward equal treatment and inclusion of the trans community, hurting many organizations such as The Human Rights Campaign, whose goal is equal treatment for those in the LBGTQ community. Many trans people are facing ridicule and exclusion solely because it is seen as “different” and “strange” by some. Chappelle’s remarks about Jenner’s body undercuts the actions taken by trans supporters to enforce the idea that their bodies are just as important and beautiful as a normal woman’s  or man’s. The HRC has several articles discussing the importance of the way in which transgenders are viewed. These equal rights activists state,

Contrasting transgender people with “real” or “biological” men and women is a  false comparison. They are real men and women, and doing so contributes to the inaccurate perception that transgender people are being deceptive when, in fact, they are being authentic and courageous.”

This specific article continues on by explaining the importance of the overall comprehension of what it means to be trans as well as the integration of the trans community into everyday society. Chappelle continues his performance with some support of the trans community, saying they are very “strong” and that he has nothing against them (which for some members, may not be believable).

His second episode, The Bird Revelation, is a much more personal and intimate encounter with him. The tight, low-lit setting creates a more somber and serious feeling, foreshadowing the nature of discussion. Beginning with a tongue-and-cheek joke about how our society is going off the rails, he backs up this claim with the rise in debate regarding the “Me Too” movement. Chappelle talks about his comic acquaintance, Louis C.K., and his tie to the movement. Emphasizing that he was oblivious to the accusations before they came out, he moved his stance in favor of C.K. Repeatedly stating that he was a supporter of women’s rights and that they should report sexual abuse demonstrates to the audience that he doesn’t side with the abusers. However, the comedian changes the dynamic of the “conversation” with the audience and somewhat criticizes the course of action the victims took. ‘If you are uncomfortable you should leave’ seemed to be the main point he was making which translates to women should be able to express their feelings and show opposition to their assailant. Disapproval of some members of the audience became evident at this time, as this is a common mentality for those who have not been directly affected by sexual assault or cannot empathize with the stress of the situation. Trying to strengthen his argument, Chappelle also incorporates another common skeptical ideology in our society; due to the vast amount of accusations in such a short amount of time, surely some of them must be false claims. Both of these diminish the support and strength of this movement, hindering its overall goal of creating a safe and enriching environment for women. In a recent article in USA Today, these mentalities are brought up. The movement is relatively unstable due to the skepticism by some, according to the article, and this skepticism transcends through our society working in opposition to the movement. In an effort to show indifference and avoid bias, the article incorporates facts from both sides of the argument. Regarding the faux claims of sexual abuse, the piece states,

“False reports of sexual assault are rare —  2% to 7%, according to studies cited by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center — but, as Weiss pointed out, they are remembered.”

Such small percentages shift in favor of the movement, but, as the article continues to describe, one false claim undermines the credibility of others (in the minds of some in our society). Overall, the “Me Too” movement, as discussed in Chappelle special, relates to those in the audience who also share some skepticism of the validity of the accusations.

The two part Netflix special by Dave Chappelle was much more of an elaborate performance than I had initially thought, which topics of discussion had great relevance to current societal views. His controversial nature, in addition to playing both sides of most arguments, was used in his favor to increase the intrigue of his special. However, not only did his routine undermine several current issues of equality, including the “Me Too” movement and trans rights, Chappelle also demonstrated many ingrained discriminating ideologies in our culture which hinder our societies path to one of equality and comradery.