2019 Academy Awards: Kevin Hart quits as Oscars host after homophobia controversy; Academy faces another PR disaster

December 6, 2018

by Colleen McGregor

Kevin Hart
Kevin Hart in “Night School” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Just two days after announcing that he would host the 91st Academy Awards show, Kevin Hart has quit the job after homophobic remarks from his past caused controversy over his hiring. In a series of social-media posts that began on December 6, 2018, Hart admitted that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had pressured him to make a public apology or else they would fire him. Hart says he chose to quit instead. Several of the homophobic remarks that he made on social media have now been deleted.

The 91st Oscars will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on February 24, 2019. ABC will have the U.S. telecast of the show, which is being produced by Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss. Gigliotti, who won an Oscar with Harvey Weinstein and others for producing 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love,” will be producing the Oscar telecast for the first time. Weiss has been the director of the Oscars telecast for the past several years, and he won an Emmy for it in 2018. The Oscars, like many televised award shows, has faced a steep decline in ratings in recent years. Hart is a popular comedian who has been in several hit movies, and he regularly sells out arenas. His homophobic remarks have been public knowledge for quite some time, ever since he made those comments in 2009 and 2010, but the producers of the Oscars telecast chose to take the risk of hiring him, clearly under-estimating the public outcry that would follow.

Hart said in an Instagram video on December 6, 2018: “My team calls me, ‘Oh my God, Kevin, everyone’s upset by tweets you did years ago. 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.”

He added, “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.”

Hart later tweeted: “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. 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 and appreciation to the Academy. I hope we can meet again.”

The messy controversy over Hart is yet another embarrassment for the Academy, which in the past few years has had its own share of problems when it comes to accusations of bigotry. In 2015 and 2016, there was backlash against the Academy when all the actors and actress nominated for Oscars were white, which led to to the social media hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. After several media outlets published statistics revealing that the overwhelming majority of Academy members were white men over the age of 50, the Academy made very public efforts to invite more women, people of color and younger people into its membership.

In October 2017, after the Harvey Weinstein scandal hit and the #MeToo movement became a major cultural force, the Academy expelled Weinstein from its membership, but received widespread criticism for letting filmmaker Roman Polanski, a convicted rapist, still be a member of the Academy. Polanski, who still has not served his sentence for the 1977 rape of an underage girl in California, is a fugitive from the law living in Europe. Polanski was eventually expelled from the Academy in 2018, as was Bill Cosby after Cosby was convicted of rape. Polanski received his first Academy Award for directing the 2002 movie “The Pianist,” and received a standing ovation from several Academy members when he was announced as the winner. Polanski was not at the ceremony because he has not been in the U.S. since he fled in 1978.

In March 2018, the Academy faced more controversy when president John Bailey was accused of sexual harassment. A female former colleague alleged that he inappropriately touched her when they worked together. Bailey, who denied the accusation, was cleared in an investigation two weeks later, and he was re-elected president of the Academy in August 2018.

The Academy then had a public-relations misstep in August 2018, when it announced that it was adding a new Oscars category for popular films, but said that it hadn’t been decided yet what the qualifications would be for films to eligible for this category. The announcement was very controversial with most Academy members, who say the decision was largely made by the Academy’s board of directors without letting the Academy members vote on the decision. The idea for a “popular films” category also got a mostly negative reaction from the media and the general public. A month after announcing the decision, the Academy announced that the “popular films” category was indefinitely shelved.

Hart quitting as host of the Oscars isn’t the first time that someone has walked away from the job. In 2011, Eddie Murphy (who also has a history of making homophobic remarks when he was doing stand-up comedy) quit the job of hosting the 2012 Academy Awards, after filmmaker Brett Ratner, who had been hired as the Oscar telecast producer, stepped down for saying a homophobic slur in an interview. Murphy was later replaced by Billy Crystal. (Years later, during the rise of the #MeToo movement in 2017, Ratner was accused of sexual harassment by several women, including actress Olivia Munn, who claims that while on a film set, Ratner masturbated in front of her without her consent. Ratner has denied all the allegations, but he has lost several business deals, including with Warner Bros. Pictures and Playboy Enterprises, as a result of the accusations.)

The Murphy/Ratner debacle for the Oscars telecast was years before the rise of the #MeToo movement, and the controversy over Hart shows that the producers of the Oscar telecast have not learned from past mistakes about hiring people who’ve made bigoted remarks, no matter how long ago those remarks were made. Because the Oscars telecast has been losing millions of viewers and because there is more pressure than ever to be a host who can bring in the desired ratings without offending people, it’s no longer as prestigious to host the Oscars as it used to be. Many A-list entertainers don’t want to be under that type of pressure for a dwindling audience.

One thing is clear: Anyone who hosts the Oscars from now on better have a non-offensive background. We are now living in an era where, for many people, it’s not enough for apologies to be made for past bigoted remarks. People are expected to have the type of moral character to not say those hateful comments in the first place. The gray area comes in evaluating how much people are sincerely remorseful for their offensive mistakes, how they have possibly changed for the better to not make the same mistakes, and giving them a chance to prove it.

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