Dave Chappelle’s alma mater, The Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., has put the brakes on renaming its theater after the comedian, the institution announced Friday.
The school cited concerns over Chappelle’s Netflix special “The Closer,” which elicited controversy for his comments about the LGBTQ+ community and transgender people. In the weeks following the standup special’s Oct. 5 debut, Chappelle drew criticism from LGBTQ activists and Netflix employees, leading to virtual and in-person protests in front of Netflix’s offices in Los Angeles.
The school will proceed with renaming festivities on April 22.
In the statement, Chappelle’s alma mater acknowledged “questions and concerns” from the school’s community, including its students.
“Moving forward with the event … without first addressing questions and concerns from members of the Ellington Community would be a missed opportunity for a teachable moment,” the statement read.
Duke Ellington’s principal, Sandi Logan, told The Washington Post that the school has taken steps to address these concerns. In addition to meeting with individual students, she convened with an “advisory committee” of student leaders, including members from the school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance, each week for a month.
The school will also be implementing an expanded social studies curriculum with content “… related to political activism, civic engagement, arts activism, and the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality.”
Chappelle and Netflix came under fire from prominent social justice organizations in October for the comedian’s jokes targeting trans and other LGBTQ+ people in his new special. “Gender is a fact,” he says at one point in the hour-plus set. “Every human being in this room, every human being on Earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on Earth.” Chappelle then joked about the genitalia of trans women, which he described as “not what it is.”
“Dave is an artist and activist and applauds the school taking time to develop creative and critical thinkers,” Chappelle representative Carla Sims wrote in an email to The Washington Post. “He supports the school and any effort to contribute to open conversations vs. cancellations.”
According to The Post, the school had announced the renaming plan “hours” before “The Closer” premiered on Netflix.
The school, one of the few arts schools in the region with a student body primarily consisting of students of color, said that Chappelle’s “current and future work and influence would raise the profile of the school, increase opportunities for the entire Ellington community, and provide critical fundraising support for the sustainability of our arts-based curriculum.”
Speaking at an Oct. 5 fundraiser, Chappelle called having the theater named after him “the most significant honor of my life.”