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Op-ed: The Problem With Ellen DeGeneres’ Kevin Hart Interview

Kevin Hart and Ellen DeGeneres

I knew this was coming. I just knew that Kevin Hart, after refusing to apologize (again, supposedly) for years-old homophobic tweets and jokes and stepping down as Oscars host, would do one major media interview about the hubbub. And who better than America’s favorite lesbian, Ellen DeGeneres, to conduct it? But in what is an obvious stunt — on whose part, I’m not sure — that might end with Hart back in the hosting seat is two truths that can’t be ignored: Ellen DeGeneres isn’t the queer savior everyone likes to think she is and Kevin Hart has a lot more growing to do.

For the unaware, the comments that have brought Hart under (deserved) intense scrutiny start with a 2009 tweet in which the comedian called someone a "fat faced fag." Another from 2010 said a user's profile picture looked "like a gay billboard for AIDS." And then there’s this 2012 tweet: "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.'"

These tweets were resurfaced, by folks like the Guardian’s east coast arts editor Benjamin Lee and Buzzfeed’s senior film reporter Adam B. Vary, just one day after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the box office magnet as host. Hart initially ignored them, he told DeGeneres, assuming it would pass. When it didn’t, he refused to apologize and address the comments and jokes because he said he had already done so years prior, at a press junket following the 2012 tweet and during promotion of his 2015 film with Will Ferrell, Get Hard.

“I know that I’ve addressed it. I know that I’ve apologized,” he said to DeGeneres. “I know that within my apologies, I’ve taken 10 years to put my apology to work. I’ve yet to go back to that version of the immature comedian that once was.”

But the film academy gave him an ultimatum anyway: apologize or we’ll find another host. Hart decided to step down, tweeting: "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 & appreciation to the Academy. I hope we can meet again."

Surely, there is much to discuss from Hart’s interview with DeGeneres scheduled to air on Friday, the first he’s done since stepping down. Noted first however must be that DeGeneres doesn’t, in this case, have the necessary range.

“As a gay person, I am sensitive to all of that,” she said in the interview, setting out an argument for him to return to hosting duties. “You’ve already expressed that it's not being educated on the subject, not realizing how dangerous those words are, not realizing how many kids are killed for being gay or beaten up every day. You have grown, you have apologized, you are apologizing again right now. You’ve done it. Don’t let those people win — host the Oscars.”

I’m not one to tell many people to “stay in your lane,” but Kevin Hart is a Black man who once “joked” he’d break a doll house over the head of his Black son; my granny once said “truth is always told in jest.” 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.

What I know is that whatever apologies do come from Hart need to recognize the particular racial aspect of this conversation. Yes, all LGBTQ people regardless of race have the potential to be harmed by his words. And no, the Black community is not more homophobic or anti-queer than others. But Hart is one of the most recognizable Black faces in pop culture and that’s why he should especially seek forgiveness from Black queer folks in addition to his broader appeals, something DeGeneres can’t grant. It would’ve also been nice if a Black queer person, or at least a Black ally, received the exclusive interview. He could have spoken with Robin Roberts or Don Lemon or, hell, B. Scott, anyone that might’ve challenged him more from this vantage.

Lastly, in the interview, Hart said he has changed and grown from the “mistakes” of his past. Owning the tasteless comments, he said he doesn’t have a homophobic bone in his body and is more cultured than he’s ever been. All the while, he details how “a malicious attack to end him” by internet “trolls” was orchestrated to impact his career far beyond just the Oscars — endorsement deals, investment opportunities, studio relationships, etc. Some might say he painted himself as the victim, and DeGeneres let him with little to no pushback, as the pre-released clips show. I’d say he definitely didn’t not do so. But what’s telling is his steadfast position of not wanting to have to continuously apologize.

I get it; apologizing over and over again for something you’ve done in the past is tiring. But for someone as active on social media as Hart is, and for someone whose brand is as wide-reaching as his is, apologizing, via Twitter or in interviews, is low stakes. And if only for the people who will stumble on his problematic statements in years to come, unaware of his atonement and growth, why not be sure to reiterate often? And why not be sure that one’s apology can’t be interpreted as half-assed or a non apology by equating accountability with negativity?

Recovering bigots and reformed homophobes (and racists and transphobes, etc.) in public should be willing to fully own their apologies. Hart isn’t that friend who said something horrible behind your back 10 years ago that you’ve promised to forgive and forget. He’s a celebrity with a platform that reaches millions a day. As such, heavy is that crown that sits atop his head and to whom much is given, much is required. Maybe if Hart grows a little more, he’ll come to this realization.  

Tre’vell Anderson is OUT’s director of culture and entertainment.

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