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Oscars host Kevin Hart's homophobia is no laughing matter

The Guardian logo The Guardian 4 days ago Benjamin Lee

Kevin Hart wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Kevin Hart in 2015. Why, when the Academy is desperate to show a more inclusive side would Hart seem an appropriate host? © Getty Images Kevin Hart in 2015. Why, when the Academy is desperate to show a more inclusive side would Hart seem an appropriate host? Editor's note: The opinions in this article are the author's, as published by our content partner, and do not represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

At first glance, the Academy picking the ebullient and experienced comedian-actor Kevin Hart to host the 2019 Oscars seems like a smart pick.

The 39-year-old star of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Ride Along has quipped his way to becoming one of the most dependable box office stars working today with his films totalling over $3.5bn worldwide. His social media presence has also been a major key to his success with 34 million followers on Twitter and over 65 million on Instagram and with ratings for the ceremony continuing to spiral down, the Academy clearly hopes he’ll help draw viewers back in.

After two years of straight white host Jimmy Kimmel’s rather dull shtick and after an increased push to improve the diversity of voters, choosing an African American host is also a much-needed leap forward on stage.\

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Video: Kevin Hart to Host Oscars For First Time, Says "It's Time To Rise To The Occasion" (The Hollywood Reporter)

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But there’s one small catch.

Hart has a rather vile history of documented homophobia, ranging from offensive standup clangers to dumb interview statements to puerile tweets to a whole embarrassing film filled with it. In 2010 during his Seriously Funny standup special, Hart delivered an extended joke based on a fear of his three-year-old son Hendrix turning out gay.

One of my biggest fears is my son growing up and being gay. That’s a fear. 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. Now with that being said, I don’t know if I handled my son’s first gay moment correctly. Every kid has a gay moment but when it happens, you’ve got to nip it in the bud!

Hilarious, right? A gay kid! No, thanks!

Kevin Hart © Getty Kevin Hart

As his profile rose, the joke resurfaced and in a 2015 profile with Rolling Stone, he was asked to discuss it. After attempting a poorly conceived justification claiming that it’s really all about his own fears and insecurities, he then blamed the climate.

“I wouldn’t tell that joke today, because when I said it, the times weren’t as sensitive as they are now,” he said. “I think we love to make big deals out of things that aren’t necessarily big deals, because we can.”

What might not seem like a big deal to Hart is less amusing when given a wider context. In his extended joke, he claimed to have beaten both his son and another kid who was “grinding” up behind him at a party, something that feels particularly grotesque when viewed next to the multiple real world stories of parents beating and torturing their children to death when a so-called “gay moment” rears its head. Giovanni Melton, Gabriel Fernandez, Anthony Avalos, Ronnie Paris – just a handful of kids killed by parents because of either their perceived or confirmed homosexuality.

During the same period, Hart revealed that he turned down a role in 2008’s Tropic Thunder because the character was gay and his behaviour was “real flagrant” before adding that he’d never be able to play a gay character in the future. “What I think people are going to think while I’m trying to do this is going to stop me from playing that part the way I’m supposed to,” he said.

Kevin Hart, Will Ferrell sitting on a couch: Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell in Get Hard. Photograph: Patti Perret/AP © AP Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell in Get Hard. Photograph: Patti Perret/AP

The comments preceded his role opposite Will Ferrell in Get Hard, one of the most shockingly regressive gay panic comedies in recent memory, an almost two-hour film based around a fear of anal sex. In the film, Hart helps Ferrell’s character prepare for a stint in jail but after minimal attempts to cover the specifics of prison life and protecting one’s self in a fight, a strikingly dominant phobia of male rape takes over. I wrote about it at the time:

The film’s unarguably wretched low point arrives when Hart’s character takes Ferrell to a gay brunch “hookup spot” where he tells him he’ll need to learn to perform oral sex to make his time in prison easier. While being eyed up by every gay man around them, Hart informs Ferrell of the relative ease of approaching a gay stranger for sex, because “that’s what they do”. After Ferrell immediately gets the attention of the depressingly used Matt Walsh, of Veep fame, he proceeds to attempt an unsuccessful bathroom-stall tryst, which disgusts him in such graphic detail that he can’t go through with it. Meanwhile, Hart is approached by a predatory older gay man who, even after finding out Hart’s heterosexuality, refuses to take no for an answer.

Now, there’s an important distinction to make here. The fear of rape is obviously legitimate and a man’s fear of being raped by another man while in prison is also understandable and by no means homophobic. It makes sense that the film would at least address this but what makes less sense is why the writers have such an obsession with the idea. It punctuates every other line of dialogue and not even in particularly inventive ways (the script is essentially multiple, exhaustive variations on “you’re going to get raped”).

Hart’s response to criticism, from a gay journalist at the time, was predictably unbothered. “Funny is funny, regardless of what area it’s coming from,” he said. The film was also released just months after The Wedding Ringer, a film described by The AV Club’s AA Dowd as “a 100-minute gay joke”.

Gallery: Oscar hosts over the years (Photo Services)

So why at a time when the Academy is desperate to show a more inclusive side would Hart seem like an appropriate host? Back in 2011, Brett Ratner was removed as Oscars producer for saying “rehearsal is for fags” – a dim-witted use of a word that he shouldn’t be using in the first place but after a quick search of Hart’s Twitter feed, it seems that it also used to be a major part of his vocabulary. Calling someone a “fat faced fag”, comparing a profile picture to a “gay bill board for AIDS” and using the term “no homo” to frequently remind us of his superior heterosexuality. If he’s even made to comment on any of this, I imagine he will use his youth as an excuse but the tweets in question were sent in his early 30s, quite clearly old enough to know the difference between right and bigoted.

Hiring Hart is an indicative misstep that highlights how homophobia, casual or blatant, is still de-prioritised in comparison with other discriminatory belief systems. In the past few years, the Twitter feeds, routines and off-stage behaviours of comics have been pored over for signs of impropriety and numerous figures have been duly taken to task. But gay jokes remain somehow acceptable. Look at straight comedian Peter Serafinowicz’s string of redubbed Trump videos, meant to be hilariously funny and unthreatening because he was speaking in a “gay voice” or check out straight comedians Chelsea Handler and Jimmy Kimmel comparing their Republican enemies to bottoms because that somehow equals lesser in their book or on a related note, cis comedians Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais continuing to ridicule trans people in recent specials.

Hart’s obsession with making unfunny, disrespectful and inappropriate jokes about a community he has shown nothing but bile for along with a string of unrepentant responses to any criticism paints him as someone entirely undeserving of a spot on the Oscars stage. If the Academy wants to progress and remain relevant, handpicking a man with a history of homophobia is a flashing red siren of an issue, a middle finger up to the LGBT community and a sign that Oscars might no longer be quite as white but they remain aggressively straight.

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