The Academy (& Hollywood) May Want to Rethink Its Approach
Hollywood Reporter called it the 'Least Wanted Job in Hollywood'. That was mere hours before the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced that they had finally chosen a host for the rapidly oncoming 91st Oscars. Their selection: the hugely popular comedian Kevin Hart. While Hart’s act has drawn harsh criticism over the last decade (like homophobic cracks about controlling his son's sexual orientation), the Academy’s decision was seen as a pretty good move. The award ceremony’s steadily dwindling viewership has lit a fire beneath the Academy to find new ways to invigorate the program and Hart’s mega-star status was a decent bet, especially considering how few mega-stars would even consider the job.
The arrangement, to no one’s genuine surprise, was short lived. Hart shared the details in a video posted to his Instagram:
“My team calls me, ‘Oh my God, Kevin, everyone’s upset by tweets you did years ago,'. Guys, I’m nearly 40 years old. If you don’t believe that people change, grow, evolve as they get older, I don’t know what to tell you. If you want to hold people in a position where they always have to justify the past, do you. I’m the wrong guy, man.”
Hart’s response to the controversy was a controversy in and of itself. The comedian took immediate flak from social media communities for an apparent refusal to apologize, an irrevocably damning move in the #MeToo era.
“I chose to pass on the apology,” Hart offered in a second Instagram follow up. “The reason why I passed is because I’ve addressed this several times. This is not the first time this has come up. I’ve addressed it. I’ve spoken on it. I’ve said where the rights and wrongs were. I’ve said who I am now versus who I was then. I’ve done it. I’m not going to continue to go back and tap into the days of old when I’ve moved on and I’m in a completely different place in my life.”
While Hart did eventually apologize, it was alongside a public resignation from the gig that apparently, even the Academy wasn’t expecting. Paired with the Academy’s ill-advised and equally short lived addition of a Popular Film category, the controversy paints a picture of an organization that is having more than a little trouble revitalizing its image against a backdrop of an ever-evolving industry.
Today, the Academy is reportedly “freaking out.” Apparently there were no contingency plans in place by the Academy or the event’s broadcaster, ABC. Now the event may have no choice but to move forward without any host at all, something that hasn’t happened since 1989.
Hart’s tweets aside (many of which were quickly deleted by the actor-comedian) one must ask the inevitable question, didn’t the Academy know what they were getting into? After all, Hart’s reputation as a controversial figure was well known. This isn’t the first time he was made to answer for offensive material, either. Hart addressed some of the more homophobic aspects of his earlier work in a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone. In fact, the interview brought to light some of the same jokes that had the Academy demanding an apology.
Hart is hardly the first industry mogul to learn what has become the mantra of contemporary entertainers and politicians: the internet never forgets. It was less than half a year ago when James Gunn was removed from his directorial duties on Guardians of the Galaxy 3 after the resurfacing of some old (also homophobic) tweets. It was a move that garnered considerable ill-will towards Disney, with fans clamoring for his reinstatement, and in some cases, outright boycott of the franchise. In that case it was the feeling of many fans that his removal was unwarranted considering the age of the tweets and the fact that they, also, had already been apologized for.
However, Disney and the Academy perhaps should not be held entirely responsible for the changing political climate of the industry, in which fans and moviegoers are quick to judge an organization’s merits based on the behavior of its employees and associates. But considering that this is the world we have justifiably agreed to inhabit, it is strange that the Academy would give the gig to Hart in the first place if there was concern over his image. Rather than properly vet their candidates they opted to expose their concerns both publically and tardily. It was a move that will only continue to discourage interest in a high-profile job that most entertainers, with a few notable exceptions, won’t go near.
Even Jerry Seinfeld had something to say about the decision. In an interview with Sunday Today Seinfeld expressed:
"I think Kevin's going to be fine, you know. But finding another Kevin Hart, that's not so easy. He's a brilliant guy with a movie career."
Seinfeld, for the most part, had tended to avoid commenting in the public sphere about such matters. However in light of such high profile misconduct from the likes of Bill Cosby, Roseanne Barr, and Louis CK, not to mention the seminal catalyst of Harvey Weinstein, Seinfeld offered a few thoughts to the New York Times about what it’s like being a comedian in the #MeToo era.
“We’re figuring it out as we go along,” Seinfeld said. “And there’s something very stimulating and empowering about that. We don’t really know what the rules are.”
There is something to be said about the increased responsibility producers and consumers expect from today’s entertainers, but the Academy, as well as the Industry at large, needs to utilize rational, case-by-case judgment if it ever hopes to adapt. As far as the 91st Academy Awards are concerned, the solution may be simpler than anyone has considered:
Somebody call Billy Crystal.