Homophobe Kevin Hart has had an eventful few days. So let’s break it down, all the way from Ellen Degeneres to Don Lemon and Deadline.
Last Friday, Hart’s appearance on Ellen reignited the controversy over his years of homophobic comments, which included a shocking amount of insulting tweets and a comedy routine in which he recounted assaulting his son in hopes of preventing the boy from becoming gay. Ellen Degeneres gave him the platform of a nationally syndicated tv show to declare, “I don’t have a homophobic bone in my body,” and that all those who are offended by his comments are “haters” and “trolls.” And she refused to challenge his assertions in any way.
Hart’s narrative insists this controversy is just about jokes that are a decade old and for which he had apologized years ago. Vulture investigated the latter claim but found no apology prior to his December 7th tweet, after which he’d already stepped down from the Oscars hosting gig. CNN investigated too. Despite Hart’s claim that these negative people conspiring against him can find his apology just as easily as they did his homophobic tweets, CNN couldn’t find the apology either. And for the record: all it took to find Hart using “gay” or “fag” in tweets was going to Twitter’s search function with his handle name and either keyword. It’s not rocket science. Look, I did it again this morning.
Meanwhile, Degeneres faced criticism for her part in Hart’s latest attempt at reputation recovery. Essentially, as the world’s most famous lesbian, her bringing him on and forgiving him might suggest to the world that the LGBTQA+ community as a whole has too. But a barrage of editorials were quick to point out we never elected Degeneres our pope. Beyond that, gay Black men spoke out, declaring Hart’s offences were not something Degeneres could forgive, as they were never against her, a white lesbian. Yes, Degeneres is a trailblazer for queer rights and has faced plenty of obstacles in her career because of that. But that does not mean she can speak to the experience of Black gay men.
At THR, Ira Madison III called DeGeneres’ Hart interview “an insult to the Black LGBTQ community.” At Out, Tre’vell Anderson wrote, “As a Black queer someone who, when my body began to manifest aspects of my identity even I was unaware of — a sway in my walk, a bend in my wrist — was punched in the chest by Black men in my family and told to ‘man up,’ Ellen can’t and doesn’t speak for me.”
Activist George M. Johnson succinctly shared his issues with the interview on Twitter in a video that’s been viewed over 1.6 million times.
My thoughts on Ellen and this absolving of Kevin Hart. pic.twitter.com/tn7Amh6oDv— George M Johnson (@IamGMJohnson) January 4, 2019
And on CNN, Don Lemon, a proud member of the Black and LGBTQ community, addressed the matter in a 9-minute segment.
Lemon summarized the controversy to this point, including videos of Hart’s homophobic routine from 2010’s Seriously Funny tour, his Ellen interview, and his Instragram videos in which he refused to apologize. Then Lemon breaks it down:
“For many in the gay community — but especially in the Black community, okay? — the Twitter apologies or explanations on Ellen have fallen flat…To many, they seem insincere, and that he has somehow turned himself into a victim instead of acknowledging the real victims of violent and sometimes deadly homophobia. Kevin, if anything, this is the time to hear other people out, to understand why they might have been offended.”
Lemon pointed out that while Hart has been clear he wants this to just be over, but the Black LGBTQA+ community can’t just walk away from it. Lives are on the line. And as Hart—through his fame and following—has an enormous platform, he could make a big difference in how this conversation goes. “He could help change homophobia in the Black community,” Lemon suggested, “something Kevin’s old Twitter jokes addressed—but in the wrong way.”
On Instagram, Hart seemed to respond:
However, last night on CNN Tonight, Lemon revealed he and Hart had spoken over the weekend. The comedian called him and the two talked off-the-record for over an hour and texted after that. Which might explain why Hart seemed to have a change of heart on his radio show Straight from the Hart on Monday.
Vanity Fair reports, Hart rationalized the 2010 joke about gay bashing his own son, saying, “I want to say that I have no problem with gay people. I don’t have a homophobic bone in my body. I want you to be happy, be gay, be happy. And then I say as a heterosexual male, if I can do something to stop my son … that’s where the joke starts!” THR noted, he goes on to insist that it’s unfair the media reduced that routine down to a clip of where he says, “Stop! That’s gay.” (I’d argue the full segment does him no favors.)
Frankly, it’s frustrating that Hart still seems to think the problem is people didn’t get the joke. We get it. Toxic masculinity means you fear your son being gay, so you joked about physically assaulting him when he did something outside of your heternormative ettiquette. Still, Hart did say, “This is wrong now, because now we’re in a space where I’m around people of the LGBTQ community and I’m now aware of how these words make them feel and why they say, ‘That sh*t hurt because of what I’ve been through. So then we say, ‘Hey man, as a group, let’s erase this sh*t. We don’t talk like this no more. Let’s not do this. We don’t post this sh*t on social media.’ And, more importantly, within my comedy act I’m going to make sure that I don’t do anything else offensive.”
For his comments, Deadline unironically declared “model citizen” Kevin Hart “an ally for the LGBTQ in their fight for equality.” On Monday night, even Lemon praised him for this, playing several clips from Hart’s radio show on CNN Tonight. However, sincere change is a journey and takes time and greater self-reflection than one weekend (and notably one weekend ahead of Hart opening a new movie) can bring. Hart’s latest apology shows there’s still room for growth.
Here’s exactly what he said on his show, down to the third person usage:
Kevin Hart apologizes for his remarks that hurt members of the LGBTQ community. I apologize. I’m now moving on from this because I’m just hoping the apology is accepted. If it’s not chosen to be accepted, I can’t control that. If your fight is for equality, then you need to understand that change is what helps that. You can’t get what you want without understanding and accepting the change.”
I do believe Hart is begining to understand the negative impact his homophobic jokes carry. However, he went on his radio show—where he would not be challenged—and issued an apology that may be sincere, but is still missing the larger point. Incredibly, Hart manages to make the queer community’s fight for equality about him by suggesting that our fight means nothing if we don’t forgive him his trespasses against us. As if Hart is the core of this issue and not the homophobia he long promoted. But while Deadline is embarassingly ready to proclaim Hart an ally, Lemon notes that Hart has made clear that he’s not interested in that. Hart said in the same radio show ep, “It’s not my life’s dream.”
“He is sorry, he says,” Lemon explained, “But is it is not his dream to be an ally for the LGBTQ community…It’s his choice as an American and as a person with agency. He can do that. And then you can feel about it however you want.” Lemon went on to acknowledge that he understands how Hart feels “he is under attack because he’s in the middle of it,” meaning all the new coverage and social media reactions. “But I will tell you,” Lemon declares,” he’s not a victim. So listen to what he’s saying there. He wants to be accepted. He wants us to accept him. He wants to be embraced on his own merits. Isn’t that what the LGBT community wants? Isn’t that the same thing they were asking for, to be embraced on their own merits and not be stereotyped and stigmatized? So maybe — right? An olive branch in an effort to understand.”
Hart may want this scandal to be over. But the conversation will go on with or without him. And he may become the teachable moment he’s been resisting.