Dave Chapelle's alma mater backtracks from cancellation to postponement of theatre renaming

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

Dave Chappelle is being honored by his high school alma mater. Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Georgetown is renaming the high school’s theater in honor of Chappelle. A renaming ceremony scheduled for November 23 was quietly postponed but has now been rescheduled according to an announcement on its website on Friday.

Chappelle graduated in 1991. One of the school’s founders wanted to recognize Chappell as “an important thought leader of our time.” According to the website, “she understood that the current and future impact of his 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.”

The notice on the website is lengthy but it explains Chappelle’s history with the school which includes being a commencement speaker and hosting a masterclass when he brought in entertainers like Bradley Cooper, Chris Tucker, and Erykah Badu. Chappelle, perhaps most importantly, has personally donated or raised millions of dollars for the school. Then his Netflix specials are addressed.

Chappelle’s two most recent projects include an untitled documentary that captures the fear and economic devastation of COVID-19, the horror of George Floyd’s murder, and America’s reckoning with deadly racism during the first summer of the pandemic; and Chappelle’s Netflix stand-up special, The Closer, which contains controversial material juxtaposing discrimination against Black Americans with that against non-Black members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The Closer — the most watched comedy special in Netflix’s history, which has garnered a 96% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes — has sparked a national debate around race, gender, sexuality and “cancel culture.” 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. We also believe moving forward with the event, originally scheduled for November 23, 2021, without first addressing questions and concerns from members of the Ellington community, would be a missed opportunity for a teachable moment.

Some students objected to being asked to help make an exhibit for the event, which included a fundraiser. Two students reported that some of their peers engaged in a “heated debate” with faculty over this request. The students are uncomfortable supporting Chappelle because they think he insults the LGBTQ community. This all stems from the attempts to cancel Chappelle over his alleged transphobic monologues.

The problem with all this is that the school is letting its students dictate to it instead of providing full leadership for the students. Why are they calling the shots? The school quietly, cowardly, canceled the ceremony and fundraiser at first, which tells you they knew that were wrongly caving to the students. They should have immediately spoken up for Chappelle as an alumni and highlighted all he’s done for the school. Instead, they caved, then they backtracked and announced the event will be postponed until April. They should have sent a message to the students and stuck with it. Listen to complaints, then make the decision and do the right thing. They didn’t.

Now that a kerfuffle has erupted, the school administrators are conducting “listening sessions.” Fine but it should have been done before they canceled the event and created the situation it is now in.

“We recognize that not everyone will accept or welcome a particular artist’s point of view, product or craft, but reject the notion that a ‘cancel culture’ is a healthy or constructive means to teach our students how society should balance creative freedom with protecting the rights and dignity of all its members,” the statement reads.

It’s good that they reject cancel culture but that is exactly what they bowed to in their cancellation then postponement of the event. Invitations to the fundraiser had already been sent to patrons when it was canceled.

Unfortunately, the school has forgotten its mission to teach children. Instead, it is bowing to the woke mob and moving toward promoting political activism.

Duke Ellington School says it has also expanded its Social Studies curriculum to cover content related to political activism, civic engagement, arts activism as well as the intersections of race, gender and sexuality, according to the statement. “Our objective is to uplift conversations around artistic freedom and artistic responsibility,” the school wrote. “Through these endeavors, we want our students to own their art and understand that being an artist and public figure comes with both responsibility and an increased level of scrutiny.”

The school clearly needs to teach critical thinking and expand the bubble these children live in. Many people feel as I do, that the Chappelle specials on Netflix are important because they are equal opportunity offenders. No one escapes Chappelle’s brutal honesty and that is a good thing. He uses humor to soften the blow but the message is always clear. He’s not a transphobic comic but he’s also not willing to back down from criticizing all communities. No one is exempt. That is how it should be if we are all equal, right? Some just want to be more equal than others.

Is this how the school’s administration honors Chappelle? Talk about missing out on a teachable moment. Open minds to all perspectives are what they should be teaching the kids, not letting “some” students dictate what all of the students are exposed to. Chappelle’s specials are aimed at adult audiences. Maybe some of these students have watched them but I would guess that they are just listening to social media and its cancel culture instead of forming their own opinions. Teenagers aren’t known for their handle on objectivity. The adults failed them. Most importantly, they failed Chappelle.