Dave Chappelle shocked the audience Monday night when he announced that his alma mater, Duke Ellington School of the Arts, will not be naming its theater after him. Instead, it will be called “Theatre of Freedom and Artistic Expression.”
Chappelle, who graduated from the prestigious high school in 1991, made the announcement during the lavish ceremony on Monday in Washington, DC, attributing the recent decision to the backlash he received from students regarding his controversial Netflix special, “The Closer”.
Referring to the time he visited the Ellington School in November, when the renaming ceremony was initially supposed to take place, Chappelle said the students’ criticism “honestly hurt me.”
“I got a lot of cold shots in business … but I got hurt that day,” Chappelle, who wore a dark gray suit and white sneakers, told the packed crowd Monday night.
Chappelle’s special “The Closer” sparked outrage and debate around his comments about the LGBTQ+ community, particularly his focus on the transgender community. In the special, Chappelle also attempted to juxtapose the beat of civil rights won by LGBTQ+ people against those fought for by the black community and expressed solidarity with “Harry Potter” author JK Rowling, who sparked a backlash in 2019 for combining sex with gender.
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Referencing the backlash from Ellington students, Chappelle recalled how “a line formed” when asked what he had done wrong. And while the children “said all about gender…they said nothing about art.”
However, he defended the special, calling it “a masterpiece”, and said that his special was unfairly portrayed in the press.
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“No matter what anyone says about ‘The Closer,’ it’s still (one of) the most-watched specials on Netflix,” he said. “The more you say that I can’t say something, the more urgent it is for me to say it. It has nothing to do with what you’re saying that I can’t say. It has everything to do with my freedom of artistic expression. .”
Chappelle said he chose not to reject, but rather to “defer” renaming his school’s theater to emphasize “the nuances of art” as well as “my right, my freedom of artistic expression” by renaming it Artistic Arts Theatre. Freedom & Expression—which was quickly greeted with applause and a standing ovation. He said that he made the decision on Friday.
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