In a year of broken engagements and constantly-breaking news, another short-lived phenomenon—Oscar host Kevin Hart—has come and gone. But we’ll always have the memories, and the male celebrities who are still rushing to the comic’s defense.
The curious case of Kevin Hart, who was tapped as the Academy Awards host last Wednesday, only to step down two days later, isn’t actually that complicated. Hart has a history of homophobic remarks and close to a hundred anti-gay social media posts. The Daily Beast’s Kevin Fallon explained that, “The offending comments include an alarming number of tweets in which he calls men gay or ‘fags’ as pejorative, as well as gay-panic jokes about his fear that his son would become gay if he didn’t start acting more masculine.” One oft-cited, deleted tweet reads, “Yo if my son comes home & try’s 2 play with my daughters doll house I’m going 2 break it over his head and say n my voice ‘stop that’s gay.’”
Responding to the inevitable backlash, Hart seemed truly surprised—and disappointed—that Oscar viewers were struggling to embrace a host with a long history of unapologetic homophobia. In an Instagram video, he shared that the Academy wanted him to apologize for his numerous offensive comments. “I chose to pass on the apology,” Hart said. “The reason why I passed is because I’ve addressed this several times. This is not the first time this has come up. I’ve addressed it. I’ve spoken on it. 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’m not going to continue to go back and tap into the days of old when I’ve moved on and I’m in a completely different place in my life.”
Hart’s reticence to offer a sincere apology, or to reckon with his harmful remarks, is based on the implication that he’s already done all that. But journalists were quick to point out that the comic hasn’t satisfactorily “addressed” this issue, and certainly hasn’t apologized. In a 2015 Rolling Stone profile, Hart spoke on a joke from his 2010 stand-up special, in which he announced, “If I can prevent my son from being gay, I will.”
“It’s about my fear,” he explained to Rolling Stone. “I’m thinking about what I did as a dad, did I do something wrong [emphasis added], and if I did, what was it?…I wouldn’t tell that joke today,” Hart continued, “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.”
Hart’s initial social-media posts blowing off the controversy showed that his mentality has hardly evolved, blaming people for combing through his past remarks and “searching for reasons to be angry.” The problem clearly isn’t the hateful things that Hart said and repeatedly failed to reckon with—it’s “negative energy.”
Hart did eventually apologize, with a subsequent social-media post in which he announced that he was stepping down from the hosting gig, writing, “I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past. I’m sorry that I hurt people.” As Michael Arceneaux noted at Esquire, “If Kevin Hart had said this initially, it may not have satisfied all, but he would have at least said what he needed to say in order to keep his job and not further soil his reputation. That said, Hart’s other tweets suggest he still feels like he is the one has been wronged.”
The idea that a successful, famous man might have to face a single consequence for his actions left other established male comics shaking. The long list of comedians and actors who have come to Hart’s defense include Nick Cannon, Kevin Kline, Michael Blackson, Jerry Seinfeld, Michael Che and D.L. Hughley.
Arceneaux continued, “Anyone hitching themselves to Hart should use their Google machine before aiding and abetting Hart’s self-serving cause in which he seeks redemption without accepting accountability for his actions. Although I, too, sometimes worry about public figures not being allowed to move on from past mistakes, the greatest concern should always be for the offended, not the offender. And in a period where anti-LGBTQ violence is surging, forgive me if I care less about the comedian who made his own bed versus the people affected by the anti-queer climate he helped create.”
Nick Cannon has been one of the most vocal Hart defenders. On Twitter, he shared a number of old tweets in which white female comics used variations of the word “fag.” Specifically, he called out Chelsea Handler, Sarah Silverman and Amy Schumer. The clear implication, that there’s a racial double standard that’s being played out when certain celebrities are “cancelled” instead of others, is a point worth making. As The Daily Beast’s Kevin Fallon wrote at the beginning of the Hart backlash, “It’s true that when public figures of color transgress, we arrive quicker with our pitchforks and are much less lenient than we would be with white performers.”
However, it would require a deliberate misreading to equate inappropriately using a slur in an old tweet and “joking” that you would injure your son for doing something “gay.” Comedian Billy Eichner did a fine job of explaining why in a lengthy response to Nick Cannon’s social media stream, “I think these are comedians who felt they can use that term because they have very large, dedicated gay male followings, myself included.” He continued, “I do think there is a sizable difference between using this one word in this type of context and saying with some amount of gravity and truth that you’re going to smash a dollhouse over your child’s head if they exhibit stereotypically gay behavior.”
“However—that is an explanation, not an excuse.” Eichner emphasized. “I agree that the best thing to do is to just not use the damn word!”
These women singled out by Cannon as examples of so-called hypocrisy on the part of liberals, Handler, Silverman and Schumer, have also historically displayed strong LGBTQ allyship, supporting organizations like The Trevor Project and the Human Rights Campaign, whereas Hart has not demonstrated any semblance of allyship in the past, relegating the gay community to lame punchlines.
“I’m a gay comic who has had his voice amplified by @SarahKSilverman @amyschumer and @chelseahandler,” Guy Branum tweeted. “I’ve been close enough with two of these comics to say I didn’t like gay jokes that they did, and they respected & engaged. I wish @KevinHart4real & @NickCannon could do the same.”
During the latest episode of Saturday Night Live, which has its own recent history of homophobic “comedy,” co-anchor Michael Che defended Hart from the Weekend Update desk. “Didn’t the Academy nominate Mel Gibson for an award just last year?” Che remarked, before adding, “If Kevin Hart isn’t clean enough to host the Oscars, then no black comic is.” As the Washington Post noted, “Che himself has been called out for making what critics called transphobic and misogynistic jokes, and for his history of handling that criticism poorly.”
And in an interview set to air on Sunday, Jerry Seinfeld offered his own two cents. “Kevin is in a position, because he’s a brilliant comedian, to kind of decide what he wants to do. He doesn’t have to step down. But he can,” the comic, who has previously criticized “PC culture” on college campuses, began. “And when you look at the situation—well, who got screwed in that deal? I think Kevin is going to be fine. But find another Kevin Hart, that’s not so easy,” he concluded. “He’s a brilliant guy with a movie career.”
Of course, Seinfeld is right—Kevin Hart is going to be just fine. The intensity with which some of these celebrities are bemoaning his perceived persecution is totally at odds with the limited repercussions that the comic has faced. Meanwhile, the conversation that we could be having—about normalized homophobia and accountability, acknowledging harm and stepping up—has already been drowned out.