Comedian Dave Chappelle unexpectedly announced Monday that a student theater at his alma mater, Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Northwest Washington, will not bear his name.
But in a surprise move, Chappelle, who attended the dedication ceremony, declined the honor amid controversy over his Netflix special last year that many blasted as transphobic. Ellington students had also raised concerns.
It will instead be called the Theatre for Artistic Freedom & Expression.
Chappelle, one of the school’s most famous graduates, told the audience Monday that while he thought the backlash against him lacked nuance and wasn’t about his work, he didn’t want a theater bearing his name to distract from students focusing on the meaning of their art.
He also noted that the criticism “sincerely” hurt him.
Chappelle said he decided Friday not to have his name on the school venue. “But the Ellington family is my family,” he said.
At the time of the controversy last year, Principal Sandi Logan said she had had formal and informal meetings with students to discuss Chappelle’s comments, including a month of weekly meetings with an advisory committee of student leaders that included representatives from the school’s Gender & Sexuality Alliance.
“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 school wrote in a statement.
Established in 1974 with a mission of providing a free, first-class arts education to children in the nation’s capital, Duke Ellington attracts students from across the city and is one of the few area arts schools that educate a mostly Black student body.
Chappelle, who pledged to donate $100,000 to the school’s theater, said in October that having the theater named after him was “the most significant honor of my life.”
“I used to skip school. I would hide in there when I was skipping class. Who would have thought that that theater would one day be named after me?” Chappelle said in a speech to donors to raise money for Ellington before a screening of “The Closer” at the Angelika Pop-Up theater at Union Market. “But I understand it because sometimes when you love things, they love you back. And I loved that school.”