UPDATE: Comedian and actor Kevin Hart says he has stepped down from hosting the 2019 Oscars following a controversy over homophobic tweets and comments from his stand up act from as far back as 2009.
Hart said he does not wish to be a distraction and that he is “sorry he had hurt people” after calls for the Academy to drop him went viral.
Hart had said hosting the Oscars was “a goal on my list for a long time.”
On Thursday, Hart initially responded to outcry over his being named by the Academy as host of the ceremony with a video posted on Instagram, in which he said, “Guys, I’m nearly 40 years old. If you don’t believe that people change, grow, evolve as they 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 the past, do you. I’m the wrong guy, man.”
This was followed later on Thursday evening with another video, in which the comedian told followers the Academy had called him and offered him an ultimatum: apologize for the tweets or step down as host. He refused to apologize, saying he had “addressed this several times. This is not the first time this has come up. I’ve addressed it. I’ve spoken on it.”
The Academy has not confirmed that it contacted Hart, though People Magazine has reported that a source “familiar with the situation” verified the call had taken place.
Finally, late on Thursday, Hart announced via Twitter that he had chosen to step down “because I do not want to be a distraction on a night that should be celebrated by so many amazing talented artists.”
“I sincerely apologise to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words of the past,” he said.
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.
— Kevin Hart (@KevinHart4real) December 7, 2018
On Friday morning, Hart invoked Martin Luther King, Jr. on Twitter, when he shared a quote from the civil rights leader : “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
In the wake of his Thursday night announcement, conservative pundits have chimed in on social media to criticize the “PC mob” for forcing Hart to step down.
However, many of the comedian’s critics had been asking him to take positive action in response to the accusations of homophobia.
In a tweet that followed Hart’s initial Instagram video Thursday night, HRC President Chad Griffin told him, “you have a rare opportunity to take responsibility, teach people in this moment, & send a message to LGBTQ youth that they matter & deserve dignity & respect. You say you’ve grown. Show us. Make amends for hurtful things you’ve said & affirm LGBTQ people.”
In addition, PR experts have observed that Hart’s handling of the situation only served to exacerbate the firestorm.
Andrew Blum, head of the crisis PR firm AJB Communications, told Variety Friday morning, “In this day and age you’ve got minutes, if not seconds to deal with a crisis. You always offer the most apologetic statement first and he didn’t.”
Howard Bragman, longtime Hollywood crisis manager and founder of La Brea Media was also quoted by Variety. “Get your ego and pride out of the way,” he advised. “Try to get it right the first time. Be up front and try to do it once and well.”
Others have pointed out the Academy’s own culpability in creating the crisis by not performing “due diligence” before approaching Hart to host.
In the same Variety article, crisis PR specialist and EVP of rbb Communications Laura Guitar said, “The problem is with the Oscar selection committee. They should have known about the tweets before Hart was even announced as Oscar host. If they’d done their job they could have developed a response in advance. They didn’t do their homework.”
On Friday morning, GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis addressed the issue by saying, “Kevin Hart shouldn’t have stepped down; he should have stepped up.” She continued, “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. We would still welcome that conversation with him.”
She went on to add, “The Academy has recently made significant strides in featuring diverse talent onstage and they should now double down on that commitment as they look for a new host.”
As its much-criticized (and now recanted) decision to add a “Best Popular Film” category to its awards roster earlier this year clearly revealed, the Oscars are desperate to increase their ever-declining ratings.
Has the Academy Award lost its way? That question is increasingly being asked.
For the broadcast of the Academy Awards’ 90th annual ceremony in 2018, viewership was about 26.5 million people – around 20% lower than the previous year, it was the first time the figure had dropped below 30 million and the lowest number since Nielsen started tracking Oscar ratings in 1974.
The Hart fiasco was born of a reckless effort to boost its relevance and regain audience.
At first glance, it seemed like the perfect solution to their problem. Hart is immensely popular, performing to sell-out crowds in huge venues like the 69,000-seat Lincoln Financial Field in his hometown of Philadelphia. He topped Forbes’ 2016 list of the highest-paid comedians, and he’s proven his appeal to movie crowds with box-office hits, like this year’s “Night School” and “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.”
His films have grossed $3.5 billion worldwide, and his social media presence (35 million followers on Twitter, 65 million on Instagram) is impressive. The chance to see what he does as an Oscar host obviously had the potential to draw a lot of viewers that wouldn’t normally tune in.
In addition, Hart had been vocal about his desire to host the Oscars for several years now.
It’s a job that has proven thankless for many celebrities who have done it in the past – from Chevy Chase to David Letterman to Seth McFarlane, the ceremony has been fronted by a long list of popular comedians who were deemed to have failed spectacularly, and there’s an even longer list of personalities who have been asked and turned it down (as detailed in a recent piece by the Hollywood Reporter).
But Hart had actively been after the gig since at least 2015, when the Los Angeles Times reported him as saying, “If I can start the campaign now and get them into it, I’m all for it. I would just jump at the opportunity.”
Lastly, as only the fourth African-American person ever to host the ceremony (following Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, and four-time host Whoopi Goldberg), Hart would potentially have helped to smooth over the lingering criticism stemming from the #OscarsSoWhite controversy of two years ago, when the lack of diversity among the Academy’s award nominations – and onstage at its ceremony – underscored the inadequate representation of non-whites within the content produced by the Hollywood film industry. In a year when most of the apparent front-runners seem, yet again, to be white, having a black host might be a way to stave off any resurgence of backlash.
Unfortunately, this solution failed to take into account the messaging it sent on another front.
View this post on Instagram
Stop looking for reasons to be negative…Stop searching for reasons to be angry….I swear I wish you guys could see/feel/understand the mental place that I am in. I am truly happy people….there is nothing that you can do to change that…NOTHING. I work hard on a daily basis to spread positivity to all….with that being said. If u want to search my history or past and anger yourselves with what u find that is fine with me. I’m almost 40 years old and I’m in love with the man that I am becoming. You LIVE and YOU LEARN & YOU GROW & YOU MATURE. I live to Love….Please take your negative energy and put it into something constructive. Please….What’s understood should never have to be said. I LOVE EVERYBODY…..ONCE AGAIN EVERYBODY. If you choose to not believe me then that’s on you….Have a beautiful day
The Academy – in typically tone-deaf fashion – may have chosen a host who checks off several important boxes for image-conscious Hollywood, but in doing so it ignored Hart’s problematic history of homophobia.
And as you can see from the Instagram post above, Hart is now positioning himself as a victim of PC culture run amok.
It’s not all that different from his belated response over criticism around the notorious comedy routine for his 2010 TV special, “Seriously Funny,” in which Hart joked that as a parent, “one of my biggest fears is my son growing up and being gay.” After quickly adding that he had “nothing against gay people,” he went on to say that “as a heterosexual male, if I can prevent my son from being gay, I will.” He went on to joke that every kid has a “gay moment… but when it happens, you gotta nip it in the bud.”
In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone, Hart confessed that he “wouldn’t tell the joke today.” His reasons, however, had nothing to do with the obvious anti-gay bias involved; instead, he deflected by saying, “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?”
He also responded in an interview with Parade, by saying, “I had one gay joke in my career and it was about my son at a birthday party, and it was before things got as PC as they are now.”
In other words, his only remorse was over how it affected his image.
Blaming the current #MeToo movement for creating this atmosphere is not a show of remorse. Neither is saying it’s something he’s sorry about while he keeps doing it.
The comedy routine in question is not the only time Hart has made homophobic comments. His Twitter feed has been laced with them throughout his career – things like “Yo if my son comes home & try’s 2 play with my daughter’s doll house I’m going 2 break it over his head % say n my voice ‘stop that’s gay.’”
In one particularly offensive tweet, he called out another Twitter user by saying their profile picture looked “like a gay billboard for AIDS.”
He has repeatedly used phrases like “no homo” and “no homo gay,” and lambasted his critics by calling them such names as “f*g boy,” “gay face,” “fat faced f*g,” and “man bitch” – though it’s worth noting that BuzzFeed’s Adam Vary, who on Wednesday tweeted a video highlighting dozens of the tweets in question, did a search for these homophobic terms in connection with Hart’s Twitter feed and found that the comedian had “basically stopped tweeting those words after 2011 — i.e. the year his first stand-up movie became a hit.”
According to an article published by Queerty Thursday morning, Hart had been deleting many of these posts – most of which had already been re-Tweeted in protest by thousands of Twitter users after news broke of his Oscar gig.
There’s also the matter of his treatment of ex-wife Torrei Hart, to whom he admitted being physically abusive in his 2017 memoir, “I Can’t Make This Up.” He also confessed in a radio interview last year to having cheated on his current wife, Eniko Parrish, just a few months earlier – while she was pregnant.
With LGBTQ-focused films like “Boy Erased” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” predicted to be in the running, as well as “A Star Is Born,” which features gay icon Lady Gaga, this year’s Oscars are shaping up to have a strong queer presence. With this in mind, placing Hart in the center of the proceedings – when his long track record of homophobic remarks was already well-documented and should have been taken into account by the Academy before offering him the job – was always a bad idea.
Whether or not the comedian really believes the homophobic viewpoints he has projected in his comedy – which, for the record, he has repeatedly insisted he does not – his selection as host sent a mixed message from the Academy to its membership and to its millions of avid followers, many of whom are either LGBTQ or allies.
It’s not the first time the organization has faced this issue. In 2011, Brett Ratner was forced to resign as producer of that year’s Oscar ceremony due to his record of homophobic slurs.
As for the Hart debacle, the Academy has yet to issue a statement.