Philadelphia actor and comedian Kevin Hart was named to co-host the upcoming 91st annual Academy Awards, but within 48 hours withdrew after outcry over his past history of homophobic comedy routines and postings on social media.
One such tweet, posted in 2011 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 & say n my voice ‘stop that’s gay.’”
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscars, has not explained the vetting process in choosing the host, nor whether Hart’s prior comedy routines and social-media posts were reviewed before making the choice.
Hart had long expressed his desire to host the Oscars. When the Academy initially requested he delete past tweets, he began to do so on Dec. 6, the day after he was announced as host.
Hart and the Academy had hoped to ride out the backlash. Hart put up a video on social media in which he said, “My team calls me, ‘Oh my God, Kevin, everyone’s upset by tweets you did years ago,’” he said in the video. “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.”
That apology only served to further inflame those angry with the comedian. As the controversy grew, and videos of Hart’s past routines with homophobic content surfaced, the comedian finally withdrew as host.
In a second video the same day as the first, Dec. 6, Hart said the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had told him to issue a real apology or withdraw. Hart chose to withdraw.
In the video, Hart said, “I chose to pass on the apology. 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.”
In a third attempt at apology, delivered on Twitter at 1 a.m. on Dec. 7, Hart wrote, “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.”
In a follow-up tweet, Hart added, “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.”
Then eight hours later Hart tweeted, “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. Martin Luther King, Jr.” That tweet prompted thousands of responses ranging from, “You did NOT” to “It’s the Oscars, not Selma,” to a photo of Bayard Rustin, the gay civil-rights leader, and Martin Luther King Jr. walking together with the caption, “Bayard Rustin: Martin, Look at this. MLK JR.: No, thank you. Next.”
Despite the blowback on Twitter, Hart’s withdrawal received its own pushback from black comedians who felt Hart was being held to a different standard because he’s black.
The Oscars have a long history of shutting out black performers, directors and films from nomination. Only five black directors have been nominated for Oscars in the history of the awards and only one film by a black director, “12 Years a Slave,” has won an Oscar.
Only five black entertainers have hosted in Oscar history: Sammy Davis Jr., Richard Pryor, Diana Ross, Whoopi Goldberg and Chris Rock. There has never been an Asian or Latino host.
Actor and comedian Nick Cannon, with a following of five million on Twitter, posted a series of tweets from comedians Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer and Chelsea Handler in which each used the gay slur “fag.” Cannon’s tweets received thousands of likes, retweets and comments. Cannon posted, “I don’t play that politically correct b*llsh*t. F*ck politics! Only truth!”
In a segment that has been reported on everywhere from Variety and Vulture to The Washington Post and The New York Times, on “Saturday Night Live,” Weekend Update anchor and “SNL” writer Michael Che gave his own assessment of the Hart controversy. “Well, that was short,” Che said of Hart’s tenure as Oscars host.
Che defended Hart, pointing out the hypocrisy of the Academy. “Didn’t the Academy nominate Mel Gibson for an award just last year?” Che asked.
Gibson issued a racist and anti-Semitic tirade when arrested for DUI several years ago. Gibson was also accused of domestic violence and pleaded no contest to domestic battery.
“Also, if Kevin Hart isn’t clean enough to host the Oscars, then no black comic is. The only black comic I know that’s cleaner than Kevin Hart is booked for the next three to 10 years,” Che added, as a prison photo of Bill Cosby, recently convicted of sexually assaulting a lesbian Temple University basketball coach was posted.
The Academy has not announced a new host and sources at ABC, the venue for the Oscars through 2028, suggest that this year’s Oscars may run without a host.