Dave Chappelle's Alma Mater Will Still Name Theater After Him Despite Netflix Controversy

Dave Chappelle announced on Saturday a fundraising contest to decide if the theater at his alma mater should be named after him, but the high school said in a statement Sunday it will not acknowledge the results. Instead, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts stood firm in its decision to rechristen the theater after the controversial comedian.

Chappelle announced the challenge on Instagram, writing that people can make donations to the Washington, D.C., school with a note indicating if they approve of renaming the theater after him or object to the move.

He said if more money is raised by people in objection, "I will gladly step aside." However, if more people donate in approval, "I will happily attend the naming ceremony."

Dave Chappelle At The Hollywood Palladium
Dave Chappelle's high school will rename its theater after him despite the controversy surrounding his special "The Closer." Above, Chappelle performs at the Hollywood Palladium on March 25, 2016, in Los Angeles. Lester Cohen/WireImage

"While we appreciate Dave's impromptu and spirited fundraising initiative, we stand behind our decision to honor the wishes of our co-founder, the late Peggy Cooper Cafritz, to name the theatre after Chappelle," the school said in giving its official position on the contest. "All donations will go towards arts programming and every donor, irrespective of their support or opposition to the theater naming, will receive an official thank you from our team."

The school announced on November 12 it had postponed an already prepared renaming ceremony scheduled for November 23. The move came in the wake of controversial remarks Chappelle made in his Netflix special The Closer, which many have condemned as transphobic.

After the postponement was announced, Duke Ellington Principal Sandi Logan told The Washington Post that school officials had met with students to discuss Chappelle's comments and decided to move the ceremony to April 2022.

"On our end, we just needed a little time to get our community to at least have the conversation—not to maybe change minds. That is never our objective," Logan told the newspaper. "We needed that time to be able to get conversation and meaningful progress within the community, not a Band-Aid."

Last week, Chappelle appeared at the school for a Q&A session with staff and 580 students. While there, he gave out Thanksgiving meals and tickets to a screening of the new film Untitled, which documents shows he did near his home in rural Ohio last summer during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

Politico reported Chappelle's appearance at the school was met with "a raucous reception of cheers and some boos." The website said eight students directly questioned Chappelle, including a 16-year-old who called Chappelle a "bigot" and told him, "I'm 16 and I think you're childish, you handled it like a child."

"My friend, with all due respect, I don't believe you could make one of the decisions I have to make on a given day," Chappelle reportedly said in response to the student. (Chappelle's spokesperson later confirmed to Politico that the exchange occurred.)

The school's Sunday statement disputed how the appearance was characterized in the press.

"While there has been extensive media coverage about the theatre naming and Chappelle's most recent visit to the school, the source stories that have gone viral have been inaccurate, devoid of context, and neglected to include the nuances of art," the school wrote.

"Although it appears that the clear majority of students at Ellington favor naming the theater for Dave Chappelle, we are seizing this moment to demonstrate the importance of carefully listening to every voice within our diverse and inclusive community," the statement added. "Our purpose is not to form a uniformity of viewpoints, but to help instill genuine, respectful curiosity in perspectives that challenge one's own."

Newsweek reached out to Logan, the school's principal, for further comment but did not hear back in time for publication.