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The Duke Ellington School of the Arts says it will delay renaming its theatre after Dave Chappelle following the backlash over his latest Netflix special The Closer, which has seen the comedian accused of transphobia.
Scheduled for 23 November, the renaming ceremony has now been shifted to April next year owing to the uproar from the LGBT+ community around the comedian’s comments around “cancel culture” in his Netflix special, the Arts school said in a detailed statement on Friday.
Duke Ellington, a Washington DC public school from which Chappelle graduated in 1991, said that The Closer “contains controversial material juxtaposing discrimination against Black Americans with that against non-Black members of the LGBTQ+ community”.
It added: “The Closer — the most watched comedy special in Netflix’s history, which has garnered a 96 per cent audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes — has sparked a national debate around race, gender, sexuality and ‘cancel culture’.”
The school said it would use the extra time to engage with students and others connected to Duke Ellington over their concerns surrounding Chappelle’s work.
“As a learning institution that champions inclusivity, diversity, equity, and belonging, we care deeply about protecting the well-being and dignity of every member of our student body, faculty, and community,” the school said.
“We also believe 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 said in the statement.
The arts school described Chappelle as its “most distinguished alumni” and “an important thought leader”, noting that the comedian had personally donated or raised millions of dollars to the school.
A representative for Chappelle told the Washington Post that he welcomed the decision. “Dave is an artist and activist and applauds the school taking time to develop creative and critical thinkers,” said Carla Sims. “He supports the school and any effort to contribute to open conversations vs cancellations.”
The news comes several weeks after at least 100 people gathered near Netflix’s headquarters to protest against the special, which critics say uses provocative language to ridicule transgender people.
In an Instagram video addressing the controversy, Chappelle said: “It’s been said in the press that I was invited to speak to transgender employees at Netflix and I refused. That is not true. If they had invited me I would have accepted it. Although I am confused about what we are speaking about ... You said you want a safe working environment at Netflix. Well it seems like I’m the only one that can’t go to the office anymore.”
The comedian also asked the audience not to view the controversy as a fight between him and the LGBT+ community.
“Do not blame the LBGTQ community for any of this shit. This has nothing to do with them. It’s about corporate interest and what I can say and what I cannot say,” Chappelle said in October.
Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos has also addressed the controversy, acknowledging Chappelle used provocative language in The Closer but saying it did not cross the line into inciting violence.