Ellen DeGeneres has one of the most powerful platforms in show business. It’s a platform that is hers to do what she wants with, and one that she takes seriously and uses responsibly. So for the life of me, I can’t imagine how or why she used it to make a pitch for the Oscars to take Kevin Hart back, less than a month after the comedian resigned under pressure from his gig as host after past homophobic jokes resurfaced.
The “incredible and honest conversation,” as DeGeneres teased at the end of Thursday’s show, is being rushed to air Friday. (Excerpts of the conversation have already been released.) The host said she wanted to hurry the interview because she didn’t want the audience to wait any longer to hear what Hart had to say. It’s also, speaking a bit cynically, because she really, really wants Hart to be allowed to host the Oscars again. A former host herself, she probably knows that the closer the awards ceremony gets, the more likely the Academy is to pick another replacement.
DeGeneres has called the Academy herself to ask them to rehire Hart, she says on her show. She tells us they still desperately want him, and would do whatever it takes to make it happen. DeGeneres took that as marching orders, it seems, to use her show as the greatest crisis management opportunity a star could ask for and pretty much assumed a one-woman position as Oscars hiring committee, whether or not she even has the authority. You’ll finish watching the interview Friday under the assumption that the ball is in Hart’s court as to whether he wants to take the job back.
Why is this happening?
It’s all so...bizarre.
It’s not that Hart doesn’t have a right to defend himself, reflect on the ugly time surrounding the publicizing of his past jokes and how he handled addressing them, reveal his true character, and move forward. Like many people, I was actually looking forward to that discourse. It’s a valuable one about homophobia and its lingering harms and ramifications that needs to take place. That was made acutely clear by the reactions to anyone who pointed out or criticized Hart’s anti-gay jokes: A tidal wave of “get over it, fag” messages ridiculing those critics for being thin-skinned, at best, and vindictive in their political correctness, at worst.
Both DeGeneres and Hart, in this conversation, were in positions of power to create a tangible change in our culture about responsibility, liability, humor, acceptance, and harm. (That Hart was in that position when the Oscars controversy came to be, and refused to engage in that conversation is part of why the demand for him to resign was so loud and passionate.) It should have been the teaching moment so many were waiting for. How is it possible then that they both made the situation worse?
We take particular umbrage—and are quite shocked, really—with DeGeneres referring to those who brought up Hart’s past jokes and asked that he account for them as “haters.”
“There are so many haters out there on the internet,” she tells him. “Don’t pay attention to them...You can’t let them destroy you.”
It’s alarming that DeGeneres would amplify a dismaying argument in the debate, in which critics were portrayed as some mob out to get Kevin Hart and asking for his head the second they found out he joked about gay people. That’s a harmful and ignorant dismissal of those critics, the LGBTQ community, and the entire discourse.
As Buzzfeed’s Adam B. Vary pointed out on Twitter, “The host of the Oscars had made anti-gay jokes, and LGBT people who love the Oscars were legitimately startled to see just how harsh his words were.”
As a reminder, those jokes included, among many other things, saying someone looked like “a gay bill board for AIDS,” and saying that one of his biggest fears is that his son would be gay, tweeting once that if he saw his son playing with a doll house he would “break it over his head and say n my voice ‘stop that’s gay.’” There are countless instances of him calling people “fag” as an insult.
The people who pointed this out weren’t a mob with pitchforks. They were trying to understand Hart’s thinking at the time of the jokes—the humor and the intent—and what he thinks of them now that he is one of the industry’s most popular family-friendly entertainers, given one of the most prestigious entertainment slots in the business at the Oscars.
The belief that those who found these jokes were out to get Hart reflects a lack of understanding of how Twitter and the internet works. Twitter’s search function surfaced all of them in seconds—as Vary says, there was no “malicious attack”—and that search was triggered by many people who remembered and could easily Google a fairly notable controversy Hart weathered just a few years ago over the jokes.
Hart repeated his exasperation that he was being forced to apologize “again” for the jokes. We get that. We’re just as exasperated having to point out—again—that he never apologized in the first place and instead maintained that “funny is funny,” venturing that he probably wouldn’t make the jokes again in current more “sensitive” times.
It is not an attack when Oscars fans want an explanation of how Hart has evolved since making those jokes. For DeGeneres to perpetuate the narrative that it is marks a dismaying turn from her, as does her mischaracterization of responsible critics using their platforms—ones much smaller than hers, though vulnerable to their own volume of hate speech—as “haters.”
The host has been outspoken in recent years about the toll it takes on a person to demand respect for their identity and to risk their career doing it. She talks about what a lonely, scary time it was for her after she came out and her career fell apart, and how depressing and illuminating it was to realize that prejudices and hate that she thought had evolved out of the public mindset, or at least her industry, were still very much alive.
The stormy debate that followed Hart’s Oscars controversy revealed that, decades later, those mindsets are still around. With social media, they have more volume. No matter how confident a person is and how much conviction they have in what they’re saying, the words at that volume still hurt, still harm.
We were excited for DeGeneres and Hart to talk about just that. Instead, DeGeneres essentially told Hart he didn’t have to. She gave him the floor to vent about how everything went down, and then pivoted the conversation to one about a job opportunity and the politics of getting it back.
(It should also be pointed out that Hart chose to do this very public interview just before he has a new movie coming out. Of course he would have to and should have addressed this eventually. But the timing bears noting.)
Here’s the thing that must be said: I do not think Hart is homophobic. I do think Hart should have been asked to apologize and explain, and I do not think he, still, has done that.
There’s this idea that nothing Hart does or says would be enough for the snowflakes out for blood over some old tweets. That’s not the case.
This whole controversy has yielded nothing but negativity: toxic arguments and insults; the loss of a job; the tarnishing of an institution and an awards show, the Oscars, that so many people love; and the incessant republishing of hateful speech with no valuable conversation about it. We actually wanted something positive to come from all this, and thought the Ellen interview would be just that. Instead, the interview was crassly opportunistic.
Would DeGeneres’s pleas actually get Hart his job back?
Only twice in Oscars history has a host been named later than this, according to The Hollywood Reporter. That could be owed to the struggle to nail down someone to take an already difficult-to-sell job in the wake of what happened with Hart, who is a friend to many in the industry. It could also be owed to the Academy, as DeGeneres suggests, still mulling over a route in which it could actually have Hart back.
After everything that has happened and how strong the feelings are about Hart in relation to this gig, I’m not sure how anyone wins in that scenario—honestly, including Hart.
But who knows. It could happen that the Academy takes him back, even after urging him to resign. There’s that saying about things that are “too little, too late.” It may be the one cliché that doesn’t apply in Hollywood.