The Ellen DeGeneres Show managed to pull off quite the feat on Friday during host Ellen DeGeneres’ interview with comedian Kevin Hart. Most celebrity apology tours end up making the celebrity come off as even more ridiculous — look no further than the infamous 2002 Diane Sawyer and Whitney Houston sitdown — but the one who ought to be most embarrassed by this interview is DeGeneres herself.
Perhaps because she’s gay, DeGeneres thought she was the right person to absolve Hart of his previous homophobic behavior — behavior he insists he apologized for in the past, though he in fact did not. And a cocky and defiant Instagram video from your bed, calling out the haters and negative people for trying to bring you down — like the one he made after controversy arose when he was announced as host of the Oscars — that’s not an apology either.
A few days after the non-apology, Hart tweeted that he would no longer be hosting the Oscars “because I do not want to be a distraction on a night that should be celebrated by so many amazing, talented artists. I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past.” One might take that apology at face value if Hart hadn’t then gone on Ellen to berate alleged social media mobs for digging up his past online, which he had “already” apologized for 10 years ago.
Hart had done no such thing, according to extensive research by outlets such as Vulture. But that’s beside the point here — the point is that DeGeneres, in an act of hubris that not even Tony Montana could muster, took it upon herself to forgive Hart for his sins. Not only that, but she repeatedly insisted he should host the Oscars. She barely seemed interested in his canned PR response to his homophobic past; she mostly seemed excited to talk about their friendship and how his new movie The Upside is wonderful and how she personally called the Academy to tell them to hire Hart back.
If DeGeneres had taken the time to truly think about Hart’s comments, she would’ve realized that these were more than bad jokes he was apologizing for. The narrative continues to be that comedians have made poor jokes in the past that are not appropriate in the more PC present. I’m not sure in what world tweeting at someone that they’re a “fat fag” qualifies as comedy material. Hart doesn’t just have a history of poor jokes; he has a history of hurling homophobic insults at people he doesn’t like.
Moreover, the joke that is continuously brought up — a 2012 tweet in which he wrote, “if my son comes home & 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,'”— isn’t merely a joke. It’s making light of the real violence that affects black LGBTQ youth. There seems to be some misconception that the LGBTQ people upset at Hart were all white people, trying to bring a black man down and keep him from being the fourth black person to ever host the Oscars. This line of thinking imagines a world where there isn’t a black LGBTQ community that is tired of heterosexual black men crying “racism” whenever something homophobic slips from their mouth.
There’s this odd thing that happens with black celebrities and homophobia. The solution to the problem of racial diversity in Hollywood, or the lack thereof, involves a concerted effort to add nonwhite people to films. The same when it comes to gender parity. But when celebrities like Hart express casual homophobia and then insist they’ve evolved, where is the tangible change? He’s never made to address the substance of his past views head-on, never asked why, for instance, he hasn’t made a film with a gay co-star or writer or director instead of movies like Get Hard, which are full of prison-rape jokes and other forms of gay-panic humor. If we can ask the Coen brothers why their movies are so white, then we should be asking Hart why, if he’s not homophobic and is supposedly a supporter of the entire black community, he doesn’t work with queer black people.
As for DeGeneres, the idea that she was so comfortable absolving a black man for words that were spoken about a community she is not a part of speaks to how Hollywood sees the black LGBTQ community. Moonlight winning an Oscar doesn’t erase the fact that the history of queer representation in television, film and the media at large is largely attractive white people, usually gay men. DeGeneres stepping in to allow Hart to essentially toe the party line ignores the message it sends to queer black people when a white woman can free Hart from his past and give him his Oscar gig back.
DeGeneres seemed much more suited for the role of judge and jury when she pressed Caitlyn Jenner in 2015 on her same-sex marriage views. I doubt DeGeneres has many dinners with staunch Republican, Trump-voting Jenner. But discussing same-sex marriage with her was DeGeneres appropriately staying in her lane — for lack of a better expression — as a lesbian who married Portia de Rossi in 2008. She is hardly one of the intended victims of Hart’s abuse, on the other hand.
If this were a white celebrity with a racist past, I’m not sure Ellen would’ve invited him onto her show to absolve him. But once again, it’s clearly not about what black people fearful of straight men who make jokes about beating the gay out of them think. We want the Oscars to be progressive, so we need to hire this black male and, at all costs, avoid looking like we’re persecuting him for being black. Black gays be damned.
Ira Madison III is the host of the Crooked Media podcast Keep It! and writer for Netflix’s upcoming apocalypse dramedy Daybreak.