Four weeks ago, in my first article for the “Time for Tea” column, I discussed the controversy surrounding Kevin Hart stepping down as the host of the upcoming Oscars after homophobic tweets and stand-up material from his past resurfaced. While the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has still not announced a new host for its Feb. 24 awards show, Hart reignited the conversation when he appeared as the sole guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show on Friday, Jan. 4. What followed was a disgusting and disgraceful display of self-victimization and insincerity about a serious issue. I'll break down what exactly was wrong with this interview and why Hart, and especially DeGeneres as an out gay woman, should rethink how they are using their platform.
DeGeneres announced that she personally called the Academy to ask them to reconsider hiring Hart as host and tried to persuade Hart to re-accept the job. Before that, Hart began by explaining that hosting the Oscars was one of the “highest of highs” goals on his vision board, because he would have been only the fourth African-American host. He said after “not even a full 24 hours to glow in the glory” of getting the job, he was hit with the “onslaught” of his past coming back to haunt him. He decided to ignore it at first, but then “the headlines [were] starting to change. The headlines [were] 'Kevin Hart Refuses to Apologize for Homophobic Tweets From the Past.' The word 'again' was left out. Everybody took those headlines and started to run with it, so now, the slander on my name is all homophobia. Now I'm a little upset … because I know who I am. I know that I don't have a homophobic bone in my body.” Slander refers to a malicious, false and defamatory statement. It's not slander if it's true.
Hart continued, “Headlines [aren't] saying, '10 Years Ago He Apologized.' Nobody's finding the apologies. Nobody's finding the footage from where I had to address it.” Hart appears to be taking a page out of Donald Trump's book of fake news, because these 10 years of apologies don't appear to exist, at least in the way Hart describes it. Vulture did an investigation following the interview, which CNN backed up, saying CNN fact checkers also were unable to find one time Hart actually said or wrote the words “I'm sorry.”
According to Vulture, while “Hart has addressed, or at least acknowledged, the criticism about his homophobic material … a handful of times over the past five years or so, … it's simply inaccurate to say that Hart has apologized for or sincerely reckoned with it in a meaningful way until his Ellen interview.” Never has Hart actually used the words “apology,” “sorry,” “regret,” “wrong,” etc.
So what receipts did Hart bring to Ellen about how much he's apologized for his past homophobia? “I had to address it when I did the Get Hard promo with Will Ferrell because of my joke that I had about my son. I had to address those tweets in 2012 in a very, very heavy junket where I was asked questions about homophobia based on those tweets, and I had to address it and apologize and say I understand what those words do and how they hurt.” According to Vulture's investigation, the Get Hard promo Hart referred to was when he was asked by HitFix's Louis Virtel if he thought some jokes in the movie were “a little bit dated” because they came at the expense of the gay community. Hart's response at the time? “I said to myself, This is funny. And at the end of the day, funny is funny, regardless of what area it's coming from.” Doesn't sound like an apology to me.
Hart's claim about addressing the tweets in 2012 in a “very, very heavy junket” also seems to be false, as there's nothing that came up in Vulture's investigation of that. The closest thing they found was a Men's Health interview from 2013 where Hart said, “I’m not big on joking about politics or on jokes pointed at the gay community. That's not my agenda. That's not what I strive to do. I leave those things alone. Things have really changed between where comedy is now and where it used to be.” This also isn't apologizing for homophobic jokes but rather saying that he's chosen to stay away from them because “things have changed” in comedy, meaning it was starting to be less accepted to make jokes at the expense of the gay community.
In fact, it seems to be a running theme in Hart's career that “addressing” his past homophobia amounted to not apologizing for it but rather saying that he's staying away from jokes about gay people because it's not safe anymore. He said in a 2014 Playboy interview, “I don't talk about the gay community, be it male or female. No thank you! It's such a sensitive subject. I've seen comics get into serious trouble by joking about gay people. It's too dangerous. Whatever you say, any joke you make about the gay community, it's going to be misconstrued. It's not worth it.” The next year in a Rolling Stone interview, he said about his gay son “joke,” “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. These things become public spectacles. So why set yourself up for failure?”
If this is the footage Hart is saying that no one uncovered (which it appears to be, as no one can find much else), then it doesn't really help him make his case. Saying you stopped making homophobic jokes because you don't want them to get you in trouble rather than because they're wrong does not constitute an apology. It seems more that comedy has evolved rather than Hart himself, and he's just riding the wave of change to keep out of trouble. Considering this is what constitutes him addressing the issue previously, a little humility and a real apology when his past resurfaced could have gone a long way.
Perhaps what's even worse than Hart's manipulation of his past is that DeGeneres remained completely silent for all of this and didn't challenge him at all. “I am sensitive to all of [this] and you've already expressed it's not being educated on the subject, not realizing how dangerous those words are, not realizing how many kids are killed for being gay or beaten up every day. You have grown, you have apologized, you're apologizing again right now. Don't let those people win — host the Oscars,” DeGeneres told Hart.
I know DeGeneres is not a hard-hitting journalist, but how about at least some fact-checking of what Hart is spewing or pressing him for a little more detail? In fact, she didn't even read any of the homophobia Hart has used in the past (both on social and in stand-up) and address him directly about how ugly it is. It's not just the use of the word “faggot” or “tranny,” it's pure hatred, as in this 2011 tweet: “Yo if my son comes home & try's 2 play with my daughters doll house I'm going 2 break it over his head & say n my voice 'stop that's gay.” How was this even a joke or funny in the first place?
Which brings me to perhaps the most disappointing part of all: DeGeneres' role in all of this. She repeatedly said how because she knows Hart in real life, she knows he's not homophobic. “I know you're not that guy because I know you,” she said. It's funny how she can excuse Hart's homophobia in his work because she knows him personally and knows he's not homophobic, but has a history of banning comedians from her show, such as Joan Rivers and Kathy Griffin, because she thinks they're “mean.” According to Griffin, DeGeneres told her about Rivers that “there's a difference between mean and funny.” If she really feels that way, to the point of never allowing Rivers or Griffin to be a guest on her show, then how is Hart excused? His material was surely far meaner than Rivers', and to DeGeneres' own community no less.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing of all that she said was, “There are so many haters out there. Whatever's going on on the Internet, don't pay attention to them. That's a small group of people being very, very loud. We're a huge group of people who love you and want to see you host the Oscars.” How dare she refer to those who were offended by the homophobia that Hart never properly apologized for as “haters.” And who is she to say how small a group was hurt? Perhaps she has the money and resources to shield herself from the homophobia of the world but many do not, and she needs to take into account the toxic masculinity and ugly homophobia that gets reinforced by people like Hart. There's no doubt that DeGeneres has been a trailblazer and leader in the LGBTQ community and has helped to break down many barriers. But she does not and cannot speak for the whole community.
Hart, of course, doubled down on DeGeneres' portrayal of people upset by Hart's past as “haters” by saying, “Somebody has to take a stand against the trolls.” Haters and trolls are people who shamed Madonna for, as she wrote on Instagram, having “free agency over [her] body like everyone else” when she appeared onstage with unusually large buttocks. Haters and trolls are people who go after an actor in a television show because they didn't like the episode, to the point of causing him to quit social media to escape them (as was the case with Bandersnatch star Will Poulter). Haters and trolls are not people who are offended and hurt by homophobic comments that, despite what Hart says, were never properly addressed or apologized for. Perhaps during one of the queerest award seasons ever, maybe we don't want to hear someone with a history of homophobic material trying to make jokes about topics like gay-conversion therapy (Boy Erased) or the AIDS epidemic (Bohemian Rhapsody).
Hart continued to make himself the victim, saying this was a “malicious attack on my character” that was meant to “destroy” him. As CNN anchor Don Lemon said on his news show Friday night, Hart “somehow turns himself into a victim instead of acknowledging the real victims of violent and sometimes deadly homophobia.” It's also funny that Hart used the word “malicious,” as Greg Hogben, the gay author of My Daughter's Army, tweeted prior to Hart's Ellen interview that “[Hart's] tweets and his stand-up gig saying he'd 'do anything not to have a gay son' made me bristle. In short, it “felt malicious.” Way to twist that one around.
DeGeneres ended by saying, “It's perfect that all this happened because there has to be a conversation about homophobia,” which is definitely true. However, in keeping with the rest of this one-sided interview, she followed it up by saying, “It brought up you reminding people that you're a bigger person, that you've already apologized and are apologizing again.” So really what DeGeneres is saying is that the conversation about homophobia is irrelevant when compared with the conversation about how Hart has overcome the “haters” who are upset about said homophobia. Hart echoed this earlier when he said, “What was once the brightest star and brightest cloud ever just got really dark. The Oscars is no longer about Kevin Hart stepping on that stage … [and making] the Oscars fun. Now all of a sudden it's a little darker because the conversation isn't about me hosting the Oscars. The conversation is about Kevin Hart's tweets from 10 years ago and homophobia.”
Like almost everything else he said in this interview, Hart has this all wrong. As Don Lemon also said on his show Friday night, “Someone like Kevin Hart, with one of the biggest megaphones in the entire world, he can be a leader. … He can help change homophobia in the black community, something Kevin's old Twitter jokes addressed but in the wrong way. … The truth is, [Hart's tweet] is a reality for many little boys in the United States. Somewhere a black dad is beating his black son, the same way it happened to my friend, Oscar-nominated director Lee Daniels, who through his TV show Empire, he portrayed how, as a little boy, his dad threw him in a trash can for wearing heels. … Those views of the LGBT people in the black community have consequences.”
Lemon went on to cite that according to the American Center for Progress, 44 percent of homeless gay youth in America are black. “That’s huge. Remember, black people only make up 12 percent of the U.S. population,” he says. “Among homeless transgender youth? Sixty-two percent of them are black. Those kids were likely kicked out of their homes or had to run away because of who they are and because of how our community treats them.”
Perhaps the right thing to do would have been for Hart to have stepped up rather than stepped down, as GLAAD said in its original statement, and used the Oscars as a platform to discuss these issues rather than quitting because it was no longer just about “Kevin Hart stepping on that stage” — especially because, as he mentioned, he would have been only the fourth African-American host in the show's history.
However, on Monday, Jan. 7, Hart made it clear on his SiriusXM radio show, Straight From the Hart, that he has no desire to do this. While he apologized again, he also responded to Lemon's criticism, saying, “I don’t like the forcing. … Don Lemon goes on CNN and he's like, 'You can fix this, become an ally. That's not my, that's not my, that's not my life dream.” It seems that however apologetic he is, he has no interest in becoming an ally.
It's unclear if Hart will end up acquiescing to Ellen's plea for him to remain the Oscars host, although at this point he says he likely won't host. If he does, he's made it clear he won't use the show as a platform to shed some light on homophobia. “They're going to win if you don't host the Oscars,” DeGeneres said to Hart, referring to his “haters.” “And for them to stop you from your dream … is why they haven't found another host. … I'm praying that this happens.” Perhaps there are some important things going on in DeGeneres' own LGBTQ community that she can pray for instead.