In the end, it wasn’t the terrible tweets that ended Kevin Hart’s chances for Oscar glory—though they certainly didn’t help.
The several-years-old missives, filled with homophobic slurs, began circulating almost as soon as Hart was announced as the host of next year’s Academy Awards ceremony. The 39-year-old actor and comedian deleted many of the messages, including a 2011 tweet in which he wrote that, were his son to play with his daughter’s dollhouse, Hart would “break it over his head & say n my voice ‘stop that’s gay’.” But the internet quickly dug up several more crude and cruel statements from his Twitter feed, some of which included terms like “FAT FAG” and jokes about AIDS.
By Thursday morning, Hart’s Oscar-hosting gig was clearly in jeopardy, though it wasn’t necessarily gone for good: A sincere apology—coupled with evidence that he’d matured and learned since those older jokes—possibly could have helped him.
But then, just as things were getting bad, Hart did something truly stupid: He decided to go back online.
In an Instagram post from that morning, Hart appeared bratty, defensive, and completely dismissive of the growing pushback (he also seemed kind of drowsy, possibly because he filmed it from a bed). “Our world is becoming beyond crazy,” Hart complained, “and I’m not gonna let the craziness frustrate me … if you don’t believe people change, grow, evolve as they get older, [then] I don’t know what to tell you.” In the accompanying caption, he wrote, “If u want to search my history or past and anger yourselves with what u find that is fine with me. I’m almost 40 years old and I’m in love with the man I am becoming.”
By the day’s end, that man had clearly become very, very annoyed. “I just got a call from the Academy,” he said in a follow-up post, “and that call basically said, ‘Kevin, apologize for your tweets of old or we’re going to have to move on and find another host’ … I chose to pass. I passed on the apology.” He also appeared to pin the controversy to “internet trolls.” It was an outrageous blunder: Faced with claims that his words had hurt others, Hart didn’t bother to listen; instead, he simply lashed out.
His boastful resentment made his Oscar gig all the more ick-inducing—and all the more doomed. A few hours later, Hart tweeted that he was stepping down as host, giving his regrets to “the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past.”
For someone with Kevin Hart’s visibility to grapple with the hateful words of his past—ones which still sting today—would be a fairly remarkable sight in 2018.
The tacked-on mea culpa, which was almost assuredly vetted (if not scripted) by a team of handlers, was an obviously insincere change of Hart: Only a few hours earlier, he’d been proudly and patronizingly asserting his righteousness. Now he was suddenly claiming to feel sorry for a controversy he never seemed to understand. In a year of botched celebrity apologies—from Roseanne Barr’s doubling-down to Lena Dunham’s effing-up—Hart changing his position from “sorry, not sorry” to “I’ll say I’m sorry if it shuts you all up and I can finally take this nap I clearly need” was a new species of speciousness. At least when he was being an asshole, he was being honest to who he was.
It didn’t have to be end like this. Hart’s tweets were odious and vicious, and were probably going to sink his Oscar chances no matter what. But he was in a rare position to actually do some changing, growing, evolving, in a very public way. He’s one of the biggest performers in the world, with nearly 35 million Twitter followers and an audience of 66 million on Instagram. Interacting with his fans—and bringing them along as he gets more and more famous—has been a huge factor in his stand-up and in his success.
People listen to Hart. So what if he’d used this an as opportunity to listen to others—specifically, to those who were so hurt by this comments? No one likes the term “teachable moment,” because it’s flimsy, and overused, and makes whomever’s using it sound like a YouTube life-coach with a flailing Pateron account. And yet … this could have been a teachable moment, one in which Hart actually engages with his critics, instead of churlishly attacking them from his bed. For someone with Hart’s visibility to grapple with the hateful words of his past—ones which still sting today—would be a fairly remarkable sight in 2018. It could have actually shown someone’s ability to confront what they’d done in real time. The online-rage cycle we have in place now doesn’t work: People yell, a celebrity scrambles to make nice, and the underlying problem is never addressed. No one learns a thing; no issue is ever really resolved.
Hart, though, is someone who constantly boasts of his own self-improvement. In his initial Instagram message on Thursday, he spoke as if he’d evolved since sending those homophobic tweets several years ago, yet the video itself proved he hadn’t. “You LIVE and YOU LEARN & YOU GROW & YOU MATURE,” he wrote in the caption. The loss of one of the industry’s most high-profile gigs represents a chance to do all of those things. Here’s hoping he doesn’t sleep on it.
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