Critic's Notebook: Kevin Hart Debacle Proves ABC and the Academy Aren't Learning

Kevin Hart - CinemaCon 2016 - Getty - H 2018
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for CinemaCon

I'm not going to write again about frogs and scorpions or the eternally useful Maya-by-way-of-Oprah quote, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time." The fact is that those words of wisdom are primarily about properly assessing situations based on initial information and avoiding mistakes in the first place.

It's too late for the Academy and ABC to dodge initial rounds of mistakes. Both organizations have moved into the "Learn From Your Mistakes" phase and in light of this week's Kevin Hart fiasco, there's plenty of evidence that nobody is learning anything and if ever a round of embarrassment were thoroughly earned by all involved parties, it was this one.

To rehash this week's news quickly: The Academy needs an Oscars host. Nobody wants to host the Oscars. Kevin Hart agrees to host the Oscars. Old homophobic Kevin Hart tweets resurface. Kevin Hart issues one horrible non-apology. Kevin Hart issues a second non-apology in which he says he refused to apologize to The Academy. Kevin Hart says he won't be hosting the Oscars and apologizes in exactly the way in which, if he had done it in the first place, probably would have allowed him to take a next step toward hosting the Oscars. The Academy needs an Oscars host. Nobody wants to host the Oscars.

It is, as Simba could tell you, the circle of life.

Nothing that happened this week should have surprised anybody and yet it all played out in half-assed Instagram posts and stealthy late-night announcements. That's not how ABC and the Academy should be treating what is a crown jewel for both, nor how Kevin Hart should have treated what he called a life-long dream.

It's one of those moments that could make you wish that the Academy had anybody with enough institutional memory to comb through the organization's annals to know that way back when, an Oscars producer had to be relieved of duty for the declaration that "rehearsal is for fags." Of course, that was so long ago that you'd have to be practically geriatric to remember and surely nobody has ever accused the Academy of being calcified and old-skewing, right? So it's no wonder nobody would have taken pause to flash all the way back to … 2011. Sigh. Oh man. Remember Brett Ratner? Maybe this was less a failure of memory and more an intentional attempted erasure of memory. It doesn't work that way.

It might be even easier to remember that the day after Ratner departed, Eddie Murphy stepped down as Oscars host, a move that came nearly three months before the telecast and denied us the opportunity to see if, over the next three months, something else would have happened that would have caused Eddie Murphy to quit as Oscars host, because if you think Kevin Hart's history of retrograde comments was easily publicly available, Eddie Murphy used to say crazy stuff in a bright red leather suit and film it! And put it in movie theaters! He was wacky! And somebody was eventually going to get the opportunity to ask Eddie Murphy about some of the stuff he'd said and done and then circumstances were going to get really, truly raw.

That's the thing: These tweets that people "found" from Kevin Hart? Everybody knew they were there. Everybody. This was simply who Kevin Hart was both on Twitter and in his standup work less than a decade ago. He may be different now. Heaven knows that people are entitled to evolve; it's ideal. But he was still basically this same person when he first hosted the BET Awards and the first of several MTV-sponsored awards shows. Nobody takes those awards shows as seriously as people take the Oscars, nor should they, but the Academy and ABC couldn't possibly have been unaware that Hart is and was a figure with some objectionable stuff in his background — and Hart says he's apologized for this stuff in the past. But let's suppose that it's easier to find the statements than it is to find the mea culpas, and somebody at ABC and somebody at The Academy had to have the extraordinarily limited foresight to know these tweets and comments would come up again and somebody had to say, "So when this stuff comes up again, what are you going to do and say, Kevin?"

Well, I refuse to believe Kevin Hart sat there and said, "I'm going to film an Instagram video in bed, without a shirt on, in which I look like it would be physically impossible to give less of a damn about the concern of earnest-minded people." But that's what he did! This was not a good substitute for, "Look, I've said this before, but I understand I need to say it again: I'm sorry. I've said some dumb stuff in the past, stuff that I know was hurtful, but here's how I've changed and I hope I can continue to change. [Insert details showing action he's taken to change.] Thanks for listening and I hope I can reward your patience in watching me mature into the man I hope to become."

I'm not a publicist or a crisis manager, but that's pretty easy, right? Sit down for a friendly and sincere interview with an ABC-adjacent reporter. Make a small, Disney-fronted donation to an LGBTQ organization and do a photo op with somebody from GLAAD. Story dead? No. Story mitigated? For sure. For whatever reason, Hart didn't want to do that and for whatever reason, ABC and the Academy lacked the capacity to make him.

Even Roseanne Barr did better and ABC fired her anyway, which prompted her to rescind her apology and burn all evidence of regret to the ground, teaching her supporters the important lesson, "Apologizing is for chumps." So maybe Kevin Hart is getting advice from Rabbi Shmuley, too.

The Roseanne situation was so ugly for ABC that, at this point, it boggles my mind that ABC would sign off on giving any high-profile or low-profile gig to any individual without knowing every word that person ever posted on Twitter and without a clear and immediate exit strategy in mind. ABC shouldn't hire an intern without knowing every joke in their yearbook, every Facebook post they ever liked, every filter they've ever used on Snapchat.

The thing about that Maya Angelou quote that Oprah loves so much is that it came before social media. These days, everybody shows you who they are constantly and over a decade-plus on the public record. The firing of Roseanne Barr was toothless because Roseanne Barr was fired for being exactly what she'd made clear she was, yet ABC feigned surprise and disgust because one tweet went over one threshold.

The parting of Kevin Hart and the Oscars came not because Kevin Hart did or said anything new. So this wasn't a Roseanne situation at all. Roseanne couldn't stop herself from being who she is and gave no evidence of having grown or changed for the better. ABC sat back, waited for her to be herself, fired her for it and then briefly accepted a public pat on the back for having the intestinal fortitude to cancel its top-rated show.

Nobody gets to claim even that level of illusory or pyrrhic triumph here. Kevin Hart looks stubborn and childish and obtuse. The Academy and ABC look clueless and like they're incapable of learning the most rudimentary of lessons.