On February 24, the Academy Awards are going to be broadcast, likely with the same relative blandness of its past iterations. In an attempt to liven up this year’s ceremony, comedian Kevin Hart was contracted to host, until he was grilled for a series of homophobic tweets from his past. While the Oscars could admittedly use a little more flavor, if Hart was going to spice up the ceremony with unfunny homophobic jokes, I’m glad that he was benched this time around.
The most talked-about tweet from Hart’s feed was the following from 2010, “Yo if my son comes home and try’s 2 play with my daughter’s doll house I’m going 2 break it over his head & say n my voice “stop that’s gay”.
Admittedly, the cartoonish image of someone having a dollhouse broken over their head provides knee-jerk comic relief. What is not funny, however, is the amount of queer youth who have suffered real physical harm at the hands of abusive parents and peers.
Though this was years ago, his tweet wasn’t in isolation.
In the same span of time, Hart also made tweets which mocked individuals with AIDS, called someone a “fag” (like the most creative of 6th-grade bullies), and said in a stand-up special that “One of my biggest fears is my son growing up and being gay...if I can prevent my son from being gay, I will”.
While I do not believe that anyone read Hart’s tweets and promptly struck their son with a doll house or slurred the next queer person they saw, his recklessness as someone with a large platform did normalize violence against queer bodies; full stop. Moreover, parental threats like Hart’s, though not causing direct harm to children, shove queer youth into the darkest corners of the closet where many sadly harm themselves.
In his initial response Hart puffed out his chest and refused to apologize, saying that he has grown and changed. While he did tweet out a couple of “I’m sorry’s” after choosing to step down, in the eyes of most queer folks (except maybe for Ellen) his apologies fell as flat as his homophobic one-liners.
The pressure from the Academy for Hart to step down as host has raised questions about the statute of limitations in the court of public opinion for celebrity tweets.
So where is the line between humor and harm? How far back can we reach into one’s Twitter feed for damning mistakes? How harshly do we punish them?
While I won’t try to establish a time limit for retroactive tweet-grabbing, what I will say is this: When reaching across lines of difference the utmost care, work and scholarship is necessary to do so in good taste, and one should not cross such lines if their intention is solely to land jokes on the backs of marginalized folks. And when harm is done, even in years past, it does not take much effort to humbly make a genuine reparative effort.
Hart could have easily apologized (perhaps onstage at the Oscars), tossed a few dollars to an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization and kept it pushing. However, his own hubris led to his demise, and for that I feel no sympathy.
What’s most important is that we do not support those who show no capacity for remorse with our dollars. Anyone is free to tweet as they please, but private entities are also free to withhold a paycheck from anyone who does so irresponsibly. For that I believe that the Academy was absolutely just in preemptively escorting Hart offstage following his childish refusal to apologize for the harm he caused. And, frankly, I just don’t think he’s that funny, homophobic or not.
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