The long-delayed inauguration ceremony to recognize comedian Dave Chappelle at his high school took another dramatic turn Monday when the comedian turned down the honor.
The Emmy winner said Monday the student theater at Duke Ellington School of the Arts will no longer be named after him. Instead, it will be called “Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression,” according to the Washington Post.
It’s unclear when the decision to use the new name instead was made. Officials from the school and Chappelle did not immediately respond to The Times requests for comment on Tuesday.
The ceremony had been postponed from November amid the looming controversy over transphobic jokes and other insensitive comments Chappelle made on his divisive Netflix special The Closer. In this wave of criticism, Duke Ellington’s students also expressed concerns about honoring the famous alumnus at his alma mater — a free, magnet public school in Washington, DC, with a majority Black student body.
The 48-year-old comedian, who has called the theater’s renaming “the most significant honor of my life,” reportedly told audiences at Monday’s ceremony that he felt the backlash against him had no nuance and it didn’t to go to his work post reported.
“You can’t report on an artist’s work and remove artistic nuance,” the Brandherd comic said loudly a twitter thread by Post columnist Josh Rogin.
“No matter what they say about ‘The Closer,’ it still is [one of the] Most Watched Specials on Netflix. The more you say I can’t say something, the more urgent it is for me to say it. It has nothing to do with what you say, I can’t say. It’s all to do with my freedom of artistic expression,” Chappelle said.
But he also didn’t want a theater bearing his name to distract from students focusing on the meaning of their art, the Post reported, and he said the criticism “sincerely” hurt him.
“The idea of my name being made an instrument of someone else’s perceived oppression is untenable for me,” said the “A Star Is Born” and “Chapelle’s Show” actor.
The decision to rename the theater after Chappelle was made at the request of founder Peggy Cooper Cafritz. In November, Chappelle said he accepted it, although it was not his “idea, aim or desire” to give him the honor.
Months ago, despite the controversy, the school doubled down on its decision to rename the venue, arguing at the time that art is “a free and open form of expression to both reflect and challenge society”.
“The debates among some Ellington students largely mirror the debates that are taking place in Washington, DC and across the country. Students’ diverse views reflect disagreements about a variety of socioeconomic factors, including class, race and gender expression,” the school said in a statement in December.
Ahead of Monday’s event, the school said that its co-founder, Peggy Cooper Cafritz, “strongly believes in the transformative power of the arts and her hope was that Chappelle would use his platform to bring more resources and attention to the school.”
Monday’s event, “The Excellence of Ellington: A Night With Dave Chappelle,” also marked the start of the school’s Million Dollar Challenge with Chappelle. Organizers hope to raise $2 million to fund pre-professional arts education, which is not funded from the school district’s budget.
Chappelle previously pledged to donate $100,000 to the school and presented it with one of his Emmy awards in 2017.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-06-21/dave-chappelle-duke-ellington-school-theater-theatre-for-artistic-freedom-and-expression Dave Chappelle declines his high school theater being named after him