The long-delayed unveiling ceremony intended to recognize comedian Dave Chappelle at his high school took another dramatic turn on Monday when the comic turned down the honor.
The Emmy-winning star said Monday that Duke Ellington School of the Arts student theater will no longer be named after him. It will instead be called the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression, according to the Washington Post.
It is unclear when the decision to go with the new name was made instead. Representatives from the school and Chappelle did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the Times Tuesday.
The ceremony had been postponed since November amid ongoing controversies over transphobic jokes and other insensitive comments that Chappelle had made on his Netflix special “The Closer”. In that wave of criticism, Duke Ellington’s students also expressed concern over the honor of the famous alumni at his alma mater, a free public magnetic school in Washington, DC, with a black majority student body.
The 48-year-old comedian, who had described the rebranding of the theater as “the most significant honor of my life,” would tell the audience at the ceremony on Monday that he thought the backlash against him was nuanced and unrelated to the his work, the Post reported.
“You can’t report on an artist’s work and remove the artistic overtones,” said the firebrand comic, according to a Twitter thread by Post columnist Josh Rogin.
“No matter what they say about ‘The Closer’, it still is [one of the] the most viewed 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. It has everything to do with my freedom of artistic expression, ”said Chappelle.
But he also didn’t want a theater bearing his name to distract from students by focusing on the meaning of their art, the Post reported, and said the criticism “genuinely” hurt him.
“The idea that my name will be transformed into an instrument of someone else’s perceived oppression is unbearable for me,” said the actor “A Star Is Born” and “The Chappelle Show”.
The decision to rename the theater after Chappelle was made at the request of founder Peggy Cooper Cafritz. In November, Chappelle said he accepted even though it was “no idea, purpose or desire” that he was bestowed the honor.
Despite the controversy, months ago 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 reflect and challenge society”.
“The debates among some of Ellington’s students largely mirror those that exist in Washington, DC and the country as a whole. The different views expressed by students reflect differences of opinion on a wide variety of socioeconomic factors, including class, race and gender expression, ”the school said in a statement in December.
Prior to Monday’s event, the school said its co-founder Peggy Cooper Cafritz “firmly believed in the transformative power of the arts and it was her hope that Chappelle would use her platform to bring more resources and attention to the school.”
In fact, Monday’s event, “The Excellence of Ellington: An Evening With Dave Chappelle,” also kicked off the school’s Million Dollar Challenge with Chappelle. Organizers hope to raise $ 2 million to help cover pre-vocational arts training not funded from the school district’s budget.
Chappelle had previously pledged to donate $ 100,000 to the school and in 2017 awarded her one of his Emmy awards.