Despite Kevin Hart’s past homophobic tweets and jokes, Ellen DeGeneres said she’d like him to host the Oscars so much that she called the Academy and advocated for him.
DeGeneres, whose groundbreaking decision to come out as gay in 1997 helped pave the way for LGBTQ visibility, taped a lengthy interview with Hart for her daytime talk show. In the interview, she pushed Hart on whether he’d reconsider the hosting gig. Hart had stepped down from the job days after officially being named as the next host late last year, as a large number of old, homophobic tweets from his account began recirculating online.
At the beginning of the interview, Hart said he decided to drop out because he didn’t “want to step on that stage and make that night about me and my past." Expressing frustration that he was asked to apologize again for something that he’d already apologized for in the past, Hart added: “I just said, ‘I’m going to walk away,’ because I felt like it was a conversation that was going to continue, and continue and continue . . . I don’t want to have this conversation anymore because I know who I am, I’m not that guy.”
DeGeneres spent a large portion of the interview trying to convince Hart to reconsider. “I called the academy today, 'cause I really want you to host the Oscars,” DeGeneres said on her show, as Hart sat across from her. “I called them. I said, ‘Kevin’s on. I have no idea if he wants to come back and host, but what are your thoughts?’ ”
DeGeneres paraphrased the academy’s response as: “Oh, my God, we want him to host. We feel like that maybe he misunderstood or it was handled wrong or we said the wrong thing, but we want him to host. Whatever we can do. We’d be thrilled."
“So I mean, the academy is saying, ‘What can we do to make this happen?’ ” DeGeneres said, later adding that she believed Hart hosting the Oscars would infuse the award ceremony with “sophistication, class, hilarity, and you growing as a person."
“There are so many haters out there, whatever’s going on in the Internet. Don’t pay attention to them,” DeGeneres said.
At the end of the interview, Hart said he was “evaluating” the possibility of returning as host. He spoke to Variety hours before the interview was taped. Hart told Variety that he was “done” with the hosting gig.
Hart stepped down from the job in December, saying that he was asked by the academy to apologize for his past remarks. He initially refused to do so, saying that he had already done so. In a tweet announcing his decision to walk away from the gig, Hart said: " 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.”
The academy didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. It has yet to announce a replacement host for the Feb. 24 ceremony.
Within hours of Hart’s announcement as Oscars host, those familiar with his homophobic jokes and comments began surfacing tweets from his long-running Twitter account, asking Hart and the academy to reckon with what message Hart as Oscars host sent to the LGBTQ community.
Hart told DeGeneres that he understood his past remarks were “wrong” but also spoke at length about what he believed were the motives of those calling him out.
“It was an attack. This wasn’t an accident. This wasn’t a coincidence. It wasn’t a coincidence that the day after I received the job, tweets just somehow manifested from 2008,” Hart said. “To go through 40,000 tweets to get back to 2008? That’s an attack. That’s a malicious attack on my character.”
The tweets in question, dating from as recently as 2011, include jokes about violently stopping his son from engaging in “gay” behavior (“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,’" reads one now-deleted tweet documented by BuzzFeed and other outlets). Another tweet reads, ““why does [Damien Dante Wayans’s] profile pic look like a gay bill board for AIDS.”
A Guardian article published shortly after Hart’s announcement went beyond his Twitter account, pointing to a 2010 comedy special in which Hart does a bit about how his “biggest fear” is his son growing up to be gay. “Keep in mind, I’m not homophobic. I have nothing against gay people. Be happy. Do what you want to do. But me, being a heterosexual male, if I can prevent my son from being gay, I will,” Hart said in the routine.
In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone, Hart was asked about that joke, which he described as being about his own insecurities, adding that "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?”
On DeGeneres’ show, Hart said that he believed he ultimately had to “take a stand against the trolls.”
“But they’re gonna win if you don’t host the Oscars,” DeGeneres said. “You can’t let them destroy you, and they can’t destroy you, because you have too much talent.”
She noted that as a lesbian, she had discussed his past homophobic material before the taped interview and said that she felt the Hart of those jokes had matured beyond them.
“You have grown, you have apologized, you’re apologizing again right now. Don’t let those people win. Host the Oscars.”