Dave Chappelle calls students who criticize him “instruments of oppression” in new Netflix special
Netflix released a new Dave Chappelle special, "What's In A Name?," on Thursday (7/7). The 40-minute special addresses the controversy over last year's The Closer, which many called transphobic, and it was filmed at the Washington DC school that Chappelle graduated from in 1991, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. The school's theater was to have been renamed after Chappelle, but in June he announced that it would instead be called the "Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression" following backlash against the plans, including at a heated November visit.
"What's In A Name?" shows the speech Chappelle gave announcing the theater's new name, and Variety reports that it begins with talk of his time at the school, until at around 30 minutes in, he brings up the November visit and ongoing controversy around The Closer.
"All the kids were screaming and yelling," he said. "I remember, I said to the kids, I go, ‘Well, okay, well what do you guys think I did wrong?’ And a line formed. These kids said everything about gender, and this and that and the other, but they didn’t say anything about art. And this is my biggest gripe with this whole controversy with ‘The Closer’: That you cannot report on an artist’s work and remove artistic nuance from his words. It would be like if you were reading a newspaper and they say, ‘Man Shot in the Face by a Six-Foot Rabbit Expected to Survive,’ you’d be like, ‘Oh my god,’ and they never tell you it’s a Bugs Bunny cartoon."
"When I heard those talking points coming out of these children’s faces, that really, sincerely, hurt me," Chappelle continued. "Because I know those kids didn’t come up with those words. I’ve heard those words before. The more you say I can’t say something, the more urgent it is for me to say it. And it has nothing to do with what you’re saying I can’t say. It has everything to do with my right, my freedom, of artistic expression. That is valuable to me. That is not severed from me. It’s worth protecting for me, and it’s worth protecting for everyone else who endeavors in our noble, noble professions."
"And these kids didn’t understand that they were instruments of oppression," he went on. "And I didn’t get mad at them. They’re kids. They’re freshmen. They’re not ready yet. They don’t know."
"What's In A Name?" comes out as Netflix has been in the news for losing subscribers and falling stocks.