Kevin Hart Explains Why He Stepped Down As Oscar Host & Why He Might Come Back

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Kevin Hart was given a significant opportunity when he was invited to host the 91st Academy Awards, taking place in February. For any host, it’s a massive undertaking. Arguably a gig with the biggest audience a performer may ever have, hosting the Oscars is a milestone most would consider a great honor. Hart said as much, mentioning his late mother when he accepted. But the gig (and its massive global audience) also brings with it gravity and, for many hosts, the need for serious consideration. That much was clear when, in December, Hart said he was stepping down from the Oscars gig just two days after he was named as the host. The upheaval was a result of blow-back Hart and the Academy received in response to homophobic remarks Hart made in the past.

At the time of his decision to step down, Hart took to social media to express his sentiments. He was evidently frustrated with the Internet’s tendency to “cancel” people based on things like old Tweets. “Stop looking for reasons to be negative…Stop searching for reasons to be angry….I swear I wish you guys could see/feel/understand the mental place that I am in,” he said. Frustration may have been even more acute because Hart had previously addressed those homophobic remarks, years prior to his being named host of the Oscars. Despite whatever feelings he may have had about the fairness of the backlash, he decided to separate himself from the Academy Awards so as not to be a distraction.

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Hart’s decision to step down received a fair amount of backlash, too. Many felt it was a reactionary step and, had he given it more time, the up-in-arms fervor would have died down. Now that two months have passed, it seems Hart may be feeling similarly. On today’s (January 4) episode of Ellen, Hart sat with host Ellen Degeneres and spoke candidly about revisiting his decision to pass up the Oscars gig and potential for return. Addressing the “onslaught of social media about my past coming back up again,” Hart tells Ellen his initial plan was to ignore the criticism. “I was going to ignore it, because it’s 10 years old. This is stuff I’ve addressed. I’ve talked about this. This isn’t new.”

However, that “onslaught” kept growing. Hart remarks that headlines began to change. “The headlines are ‘Kevin Hart refuses to apologize for homophobic tweets from the past.’ The word ‘again’ was left out.” It became “slander,” Hart says, adding “I [was] upset because I know who I am. I know I don’t have a homophobic bone in my body. I know that I’ve addressed it. I know that I’ve apologized. I know that, within my apology, I’ve taken 10 years to put my apology to work. I’ve yet to go back to that version of the immature comedian that once was.”

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Hart says he was backed into a corner, of sorts. “I was given an ultimatum. ‘Kevin, apologize, or we’re going to have to find another host.'”

How he responded to that ultimatum is now public knowledge. But what’s new is Ellen’s contributions to the conversation. As a proud and groundbreaking LGBTQ celebrity as well as a past Oscars host, she used the platform of her television show to offer her support for Hart. “I called the Academy today,” she said. “I really want you to host the Oscars.” She goes on to say that she called them without knowing whether Hart would even be interested in returning. She says the Academy wants him back. According to Degeneres, the organization said “We feel maybe he misunderstood, or it was handled wrong, or maybe we said the wrong thing. But we want him to host.” At this point in the interview, there’s a pause for audience applause, and Hart begins to formulate his response.

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“What I can say is this,” he begins. “In this case, it’s tough for me because it was an attack. This wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t a coincidence that the day after I received the job, that tweets just somehow manifested. From 2008…to go through 40,000 tweets to get back to 2008? That’s an attack. That’s a malicious attack on my character. That’s an attack to end me. That’s not just an attack to get me out of the Oscars. This is what I want people to understand.”

He continues, “Somebody has to take a stand against the trolls.” To that, Degeneres says “They’re going to win if you don’t host the Oscars.” She adds that, in her opinion, the Academy has always been hoping Hart would return as host. It’s extremely unusual for the organization to refrain from naming a host after New Year’s Day. “Don’t let those people win,” says Ellen. “Host the Oscars.”

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Finally, Hart addresses her request more forthrightly, though refrains from formally re-accepting the job. “You have said a lot of amazing things,” he tells his host. “You have put a lot of things on my mind. Leaving here, I promise you I’m evaluating this conversation. This is a conversation I needed to have; I’m glad I had it here. I’m glad it’s as authentic and real as I could’ve hoped it would be.”

According to Variety, the Academy representative with whom Degeneres reportedly spoke has yet to confirm nor deny this potentially tide-turning conversation happened. It’s also worth noting that many, particularly in the Black queer community, feel Hart’s public apologies are not enough to combat the rampant homophobia that still plagues their community.