When comedian Dave Chappelle turned down the honour on Monday, the long-delayed dedication ceremony intended to honour him at his high school took a dramatic turn.
The Duke Ellington School of the Arts’ student theatre will no longer be named after the Emmy Award-winning actor, he announced on Monday. According to the Washington Post, it will now be known as the Theatre for Artistic Freedom and Expression.
When it was decided to use the new name instead is unclear. Chappelle’s and the school’s representatives did not right away respond to The Times’ requests for comment on Tuesday.
Due to the growing uproar over Chappelle’s polarising Netflix special “The Closer,” which contained transphobic jokes and other offensive remarks, the ceremony had been postponed from November. Pupils at Duke Ellington, a free, public magnet school in Washington, D.C., with a predominance of Black students, also raised objections to honouring the well-known alumnus at his alma mater.
Dave Chappelle’s old high school is set to honor him with a renaming ceremony, even though he was heckled there months ago for his transgender comments. https://t.co/4yD54GZ7YV
— TMZ (@TMZ) June 20, 2022
The 48-year-old comedian allegedly told the crowd at the ceremony on Monday that he believed the criticism of him lacked nuance and wasn’t about his work. The comedian had previously called the theatre name “the most meaningful honour of my life.”
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According to a Twitter thread from Post columnist Josh Rogin, the outspoken comic added, “You cannot report on an artist’s work and eliminate aesthetic nuance.”
“The Closer is still [one of] the most watched specials on Netflix, regardless of what people say about it. It becomes more necessary for me to say something the more times you tell me I can’t. I’m unable to say how it relates to what you are stating. It’s all about my freedom of expression as an artist,” Chappelle remarked.
The Post added that he also didn’t want kids’ attention to be diverted by a theatre bearing his name, and he claimed that the criticism “sincerely” affected him. The “A Star Is Born” and “Chappelle’s Show” star stated, “The idea that my name will be used as a tool of someone else’s perceived oppression is unacceptable to me.
The theater’s creator Peggy Cooper Cafritz had asked for the choice to title it after Chappelle. Chappelle claimed in November that he did so even though receiving the accolade was not his “idea, objective, or ambition.”
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The institution, in spite of the backlash, stuck with its decision to rename the location months ago, stating at the time that art is “a free and open form of expression to both reflect and question society.”
“The discussions taking place among certain Ellington students are mainly reflective of those taking place in Washington, D.C., and the nation at large. Students’ differing points of view “represent variations of opinion across a wide array of socioeconomic criteria, including class, race, and gender presentation,” the school noted in a statement in December.
Peggy Cooper Cafritz, the school’s co-founder, “was a fierce believer in the transforming power of the arts and it was her dream that Chappelle would use his platform to bring additional resources and attention to the school,” according to a statement released in advance of the event on Monday.
In fact, Dave Chappelle launched the school’s Million Dollar Challenge at Monday’s event, “The Excellence of Ellington: An Evening With Dave Chappelle.” To help pay for pre-professional arts training that isn’t covered by the school district’s budget, organisers seek to raise $2 million.
Chappelle handed the institution an Emmy trophy in 2017 and previously promised to donate $100,000 to it.