If you’ve been away from the news cycle for the past few days, a quick recap: Kevin Hart was hosting the Oscars. Now he’s not.
What happened in between those two events was a staggering series of miscalculations and own goals that has left both Hart and the Academy looking foolish at best.
Everything happened fast, even for the internet era. Less than an hour elapsed between Variety’s initial report that Hart was “in consideration” to host the 2019 Academy Awards and the confirmation that he had the job, which, along with reports that the Academy was having trouble getting anyone to say yes, suggests that it was a spur-of-the-moment decision, if not a desperate one. Hart’s announcement arrived on the same day as a Hollywood Reporter article arguing that Oscars host had become “the Least Wanted Job in Hollywood,” a high-profile, high-pressure gig as the public face of an awards show that has been hemorrhaging viewers for reasons well outside the host’s control.
The speed with which Hart went from contender to host might explain why neither he nor the Academy thought to clean up his history of homophobic tweets. Hart has faced criticism for years over homophobic material in his standup act, especially a 2010 routine in which he expressed horror over the idea of having a gay son. Hart has spent years half-apologizing for and half-justifying that routine, admitting in 2015 that he would no longer tell those jokes, but only because “the times” had become more “sensitive.” But in a series of posts to his Instagram account on Thursday, Hart made it clear he felt he’d apologized enough, and people who felt otherwise were merely “internet trolls” full of “negative energy.”
Hart’s history might have doomed him from the start, but he’s hardly the first prospective Oscars host with questionable material in his past—Seth MacFarlane and Chris Rock got the gig, after all—and though these may be more sensitive times, there’s also an established protocol for resolving these kinds of issues: a sincere apology, an interview with a sympathetic journalist, maybe a charitable donation or two. Hart clearly felt he’d put the issue to bed, and that “I LOVE EVERYBODY” should be clarification enough. But his posts to Twitter and Instagram, which were his sole responses to the controversy, were truly astonishing in their failure to grasp the nature of the criticisms against him. In one, a shirtless Hart delivers the message that his critics should “stop searching for reasons to be angry,” and after that one didn’t take, he tried focusing on his personal growth, reassuring audiences, “I’m almost 40 years old and I’m in love with the man that I am becoming.”
What Hart’s posts didn’t contain was anything resembling a genuine apology, or even a hint that he was genuinely sorry. If anything, he seemed to want an apology from other people for not already understanding what a good and happy person he is. It’s possible that no new words from Hart could have wiped away his old ones, but an act of public contrition would at least have given the Academy a leg to stand on. Instead, Hart posted a video saying he had just gotten off the phone and been told he needed to apologize to keep the job, and then signed off without apologizing—at which point both his and the Academy’s hands were effectively tied. A few hours after the second video, Hart tweeted he had “made the choice” to step away from the hosting job and then ended up posting the apology that might have allowed him to keep the job in the first place.
In all, it was less than 48 hours between “Why Kevin Hart Is the Right Choice to Host the Oscars” and “Why Kevin Hart Was the Wrong Choice to Host the Oscars.” And it’s only a few months since the Academy announced they would be adding a category for “Popular Film” to next year’s Oscars, only to beat a hasty retreat in the face of near-universal criticism. The Academy is in the midst of profound change, and it’s also under huge pressure from ABC to increase the Oscars’ broadcast ratings. But the apparent lack of foresight with which both decisions were made, and the failure to anticipate even the most obvious criticisms, suggest an organization that’s still in need of a major shake-up, or at least one that needs to work much harder on its listening skills.