December 2, 2020

Dave Chappelle speaks with Webster students at Master Class event

On Nov. 5, comedian Dave Chappelle spoke with Webster students about his documentary short, “8:46” at a Master Class event. The conversation also touched on civil rights topics and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Webster University students were given the opportunity to speak with comedian Dave Chappelle at the St. Louis International Film Festival Master Class event on Nov. 5. 

The St. Louis International Film Festival, which partners with the Webster University Film Series office to present the festival’s master class speakers, was completely online this year due to COVID-19. 

Chappelle spoke about his acclaimed documentary short, “8:46” with his co-directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichart. He also spoke about the death of George Floyd, civil rights issues and Black Lives Matter. 

The title of the documentary refers to the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck. 8:46 a.m. is also Chappelle’s time of birth. 

“8:46” captures a June 6 performance by Chappelle in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Chappelle spoke about the unorthodox timing and shooting location for the short, which was shot near a cornfield during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We didn’t even know if the show would be possible with people sitting six feet apart,” he said. “We did everything specifically to COVID specs.” 

Due to the death of Floyd, Chappelle’s performance is heartfelt as he relates to the tragedy of Floyd’s death. Chappelle reached out to Bognar and Reichart to film his performance but stated that the tragedy inspired him to create “something beautiful.” 

“That is what became ‘8:46,’” he said.

Chappelle, whose performance was described as “raw,” was asked why he chose to approach this short with a heavy subject matter. 

“If you remember when George Floyd was killed, it was heartbreaking,” he said. “Cities erupted and all these things- imagine if I sat in that cornfield and just did jokes? People who normally come see me wouldn’t expect that from me. Talking about George Floyd was a necessity. I couldn’t talk about anything else before I talked about him.” 

Chappelle stated that the subject matter wasn’t funny, but people had to have a catharsis about Floyd’s death. While he stressed that he doesn’t want to continually bring it up, Chappelle knew that he ultimately had to address it. 

When asked if he believed people are still surprised by tragedies such as Floyd’s, Chappelle said he believes people aren’t surprised by it anymore. 

Chappelle and his co-directors also spoke to students about Trump and the Nov. 3 election. Bognar said the millions of votes for Trump as problematic to the struggle for civil rights, stating Trump is a racist. 

Chappelle spoke about his own children protesting for Black Lives Matter. 

“They were very mature about it,” he said. “I’m very proud of them.” 

Chappelle pointed out that his own son was tear-gassed at a protest. 

In the end, Chappelle thinks Floyd’s death could lead to progress toward racial justice. However, he was saddened that it took a tragedy to spark this change. 

“I hope people in the long-term don’t discount the true energy and spirit that mobilized people on the streets,” he said. “I hope George Floyd’s family finds some solace in that solidarity. People of all races understood that [Floyd’s murder] was crime against humanity.”

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