“The more you say I can’t say something, the more urgent it is for me to say it.”
Dave Chappelle is not backing down from his transphobic comments, though he is shifting the focus of the conversation in his latest Netflix release, dropped without fanfare on the streamer late Thursday night.
“What’s in a Name” is the speech the comedian gave at his alma mater, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., where he walked back the intention to name a theater after him after the controversy.
Chappelle came under immediate fire from fans, the media and even Netflix staffers after a comedy special in which he made several transphobic comments and jokes. Then and now he asserts his right as an artist to say whatever he feels like saying.
He took some time to talk about a Q&A he took part in where a series of students from the school explained to him just why his words were offensive. Rather than take their criticism to heart, he instead said they all got it wrong and that, in fact, their criticisms were attacking his personal “freedom of artistic expression.” He called the students “instruments of oppression.”
“These kids said everything about gender, and this and that and the other, but they didn’t say anything about art,” he explained. “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.”
He went on to make the comparison, “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.”
He did say that their points “hurt” him, but that’s because he believes the students didn’t come up with their messages themselves, insisting, “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,” Chappelle insisted. “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.”
He said that it is important to fight for and protect that freedom, not just for him but for “everyone else who endeavors in our noble, noble professions.”
Chappelle’s “The Closer” was released on October 5 and included statements like “gender is a fact.” He asserted himself as “Team TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminism)” and defended J.K. Rowling, herself under fire for anti-trans comments.
“In our country, you can shoot and kill a [n-word], but you better not hurt a gay person’s feelings,” he ranted in the special. In the aftermath of its release, fans and critics came down hard on the comedian, while employees of Netflix staged a walkout and protest rally on October 20.
Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos has defended Chappelle and the special, which is still available for streaming, since the controversy first erupted. Once again, he is letting Chappelle have his say about it, assuring the comedian’s freedom and artistic expression.