Within two days of Kevin Hart being announced as the host of the 2019 Oscars ceremony, Hart announced he would not be hosting. Hart, engulfed in a controversy over past tweets, said he did not want to be a “distraction.”
On Dec. 4, 2018, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that comedian and actor Kevin Hart would serve as host for the Oscars this February. Within a day, screenshots of Hart’s old tweets were circulating. Among those tweets from 2009 through 2011 were a joke that suggested he didn’t want his son to be gay, a few uses of the word “f-g,” and one that suggested someone looked like a “billboard for AIDS.”
The backlash against Hart and the Academy reached the point where by Thursday, Dec. 6, the Academy told Hart that he should issue an apology or they would find another host.
And did he?
No, not initially. He posted an Instagram video on Dec. 6, Vanity Fair reported:
I chose to pass on the apology. The reason why I passed is I’ve addressed this several times. . . . I’ve said where the rights and wrongs were. I’ve said who I am now versus who I was then. I’ve done it. I’ve done it. I’m not going to continue to go back. . . . We feed on Internet trolls and we reward them. I’m not going to do it, man. I’m going to be me. I’m going to stand my ground. Regardless Academy, I’m thankful and appreciative of the opportunity. If it goes away, no harm, no foul.
He also criticized the resurfacing of the tweets because he saw it as unfair. On Instagram, Hart said, “Guys, I’m almost 40 years old. If you don’t believe that people change, grow, evolve as people get older, I don’t know what to tell you… If you want to hold people in a position where they always have to justify or explain their past, than do you. I’m the wrong guy.”
So had he already apologized, but people wanted him to apologize again? Is that what happened?
That’s a big bone of contention. He had addressed it, but whether those moments of “addressing” the issue counted as “apologizing” are a matter of debate. TMZ and People reported that he had discussed the topic with Ed Gordon in 2014, saying people were “too sensitive” and that “homosexuality right now is in a place where it’s not a joke… the words and terms that were used at a certain point in time are considered slander, are considered violent terms due to the fact of all the hate crimes that have been had and all of the verbal attack[s].”
He said something similar in a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone when discussing previous parts of his stand-up act: “I wouldn’t tell that joke today, because when I said it, the times weren’t as sensitive as they are now… I think we love to make big deals out of things that aren’t necessarily big deals, because we can.”
But had he used the words “apology” or “sorry”?
No, and that’s what many people wanted him say. At the very least, some sort of acknowledgement that the the words were harmful to LGBTQ+ people. Actor and comedian Billy Eichner tweeted:
Many of us have jokes/tweets we regret. I’m ok with tasteless jokes, depending on context. What bothers me about these is you can tell its not just a joke-there’s real truth, anger & fear behind these. I hope Kevin’s thinking has evolved since 2011.
But Hart had doubled down on his tweets, taking to Instagram to say: “Stop looking for reasons to be negative… Stop searching for reasons to be angry … I work hard on a daily basis to bring positivity to all … Please take your negative energy and put it into something constructive.”
In response, Eichner pointed out Hart had missed the point:
This is not good. A simple, authentic apology showing any bit of understanding or remorse would have been so simple. Like I tweeted a few weeks ago, Hollywood still has a real problem with gay men. On the surface it may not look like it. Underneath, it’s far more complicated.
But then Hart did apologize?
He did, when he tweeted that he would not serve as host of The Oscars:
I have made the choice to step down from hosting this year’s Oscars….this is because I do not want to be a distraction on a night that should be celebrated by so many amazing talented artists. I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past.
I’m sorry that I hurt people…I am evolving and want to continue to do so. My goal is to bring people together not tear us apart. Much love & appreciation to the Academy. I hope we can meet again.
How was that received?
Reactions were mixed. For his part, Eichner appreciated and accepted the apology:
I’m no saint. We just wanted a little understanding, a little explanation. Apologies are tough – they leave you vulnerable. Toxic masculinity is real. I deal with it in my own way too. So on that note, I appreciate @KevinHart4real apologizing. And apology accepted. That’s all.
Sarah Kate Ellis, president of advocacy organization GLAAD, tweeted:
Kevin Hart shouldn’t have stepped down; he should have stepped up. Hart’s apology to LGBTQ people is an important step forward, but he missed a real opportunity to use his platform and the Oscars stage to build unity and awareness.
So, what happens next?
That’s a good question. The Academy has to find a new host. Out.com put together a list of LGBTQ+ people who could serve as host.
Wait. That list includes RuPaul. Didn’t he come under fire this year for comments that were seen as antagonistic to transgender people?
Indeed, he did. In an interview with The Guardian, he discussed the idea of transgender people performing in drag once they had transitioned. He initially doubled down on his comments, and then later apologized.
OK, so is there a celebrity without a checkered past on LGBTQ+ issues who can be the host without any backlash?
There are people who fit that bill, but the question you raise has been asked many times this week. Writing for The Root, Issac Bailey pointed out that Hart’s mistakes allow us a chance to examine not just Hart or homophobia, but several aspects of society:
He messed up by not understanding what Stan Lee told us long ago, that with great power comes great responsibility. And if you don’t want to go the Marvel Comics route, the Bible said something similar long before Lee was born: “To whom much is given, much is required.”
So this isn’t a sympathy post for Hart. But he raised a fair question anyway. For how long and how many times must a person be held accountable for past mistakes, even after they’ve been held to account multiple times?
That’s a question we must ask, not just about a homophobic past for which a person has repeatedly repented, but about the criminal justice system itself. Given the never-ending racial disparities within the system, how we answer will also have a disproportionate affect on black people. If we decide on never-ending punishment and scorn, black people will be hurt most. If we decide on proportionate punishment and a chance at redemption, black people will benefit most.
That’s not something I have considered. I’m guessing that black comedians are not the only people who have tweeted things they now regret.
Indeed. Nick Cannon took to Twitter to make that point by retweeting old tweets from Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer, and Chelsea Handler. Reactions to Cannon’s tactic were mixed. Some hailed him for pointing out a hypocrisy. And others said that Cannon, like Hart, had missed the point.
On “Saturday Night Live,” Michael Che made similar points, asking “Didn’t the Academy nominate Mel Gibson for an award just last year?” And he didn’t stop there, Variety reported:
“Also, if Kevin Hart isn’t clean enough to host the Oscars, then no black comic is,” Che remarked. “The only black comic I know that’s cleaner than Kevin Hart is booked for the next three to 10 years,” he said, as an image of Bill Cosby appeared on the screen, prompting shouts from the audience.
So is there any chance Hart will be forgiven? What needs to happen?
Some, like Eichner, say that they accept Hart’s apology. Some, like GLAAD’s Ellis, say that Hart can and should use this as a teaching moment. Others say that for Hart to be forgiven, he needs to show he actually cares. Writing for Huffington Post, Brandi Miller wrote:
A true apology, a true acknowledgment of harm done from Hart would involve talking about the implications of his words, not just apologizing for who he used to be. Accountability and apologizing aren’t mutually exclusive, but in Hart’s case and many others, people want their apologies to be the end of the story. They have “I’m sorry” absolve them of the responsibility to be accountable for their work. But apologizing is like a math problem. To get the credit, you have to show your work…
…Hart himself claims that he evolved but he has missed an opportunity to actually prove it, to step back, to think deeply, to have himself be changed by his critics and not just chased away by them. His defensiveness and disengagement aren’t unique and are markers of many of us who don’t know how to deal with our pasts. Like Hart, we all have many opportunities in life to not simply try to scoot past the harm we are responsible for causing, but to be accountable, to take responsibility, to prove that we understand why the harmed person is upset, to try to make things right and then, after all of that work is over, to apologize. Because an apology without change is simply hiding our problematic selves under the guise of emotional sensitivity.
Similarly, Monique Judge had this to say for The Root:
“You live and you learn and you grow and you mature,” he wrote, but where has he demonstrated that he has done any of that? A person who has grown from a homophobic past would have seen this as an opportunity to share how they have learned and grown. But as is too often the case, Hart doesn’t have anything to show other than words. He wants to tell you he has learned and grown from his past. We are just supposed to believe that has truly happened. There is no redemption without atonement.
Learn more about The LGBTQ+ Experiment here.
Follow us on Twitter here.
Follow us on Facebook here.
Check out the LGBTQ+ Experiment Discussion group here.
Sign up for the LGBTQ+ Experiment newsletter here.