Ellen DeGeneres, one of the most prominent figures in the LGBT community, is facing backlash from LGBT activists for her defense of comedian Kevin Hart, who felt compelled to step down as host of the Oscars after he says the Academy demanded he apologize for past remarks that offended gay people.
In clips from an interview that airs in full Friday, DeGeneres gives Hart a chance to again apologize for tweets and jokes dating back to 2009 that were the source of a firestorm over the announcement that he would be the next host of the Oscars. She also says that she contacted the Academy and asked them how they'd feel about Hart reversing his decision to step down.
"I had an incredible and honest conversation with [Kevin Hart] about hosting the #Oscars. It was supposed to air on Monday. I don’t want you to have to wait, so now it’s gonna air tomorrow," Ellen announced in a series of tweets Thursday. "I believe in forgiveness. I believe in second chances. And I believe in [Kevin Hart]," she added along with a 6-minute clip of her sit-down with Hart Thursday. "In this conversation, [Kevin Hart] was authentic and real, and I’m in his corner."
Describing hosting the Oscars as one of the biggest goals of his life, Hart tells Ellen in the clip that after just a day of celebration over being selected, he was "hit with an onslaught on social media of my past coming back up again."
"When it happened, my first thought is I'm going to ignore it," the comedian told Ellen. "I'm going to ignore it because it's ten years old. This is stuff I've addressed; I've talked about this stuff. This isn't new, I've addressed it. I've apologized for it. I'm not going to pay it any mind, because if you feed into that stuff, you only add more fuel to the fire."
Ellen agreed, and Hart continued: "Another day goes by ... this fire's angry, it's all over the place," he said. "Now the headlines are starting to change. The headlines are 'Kevin Hart Refuses To Apologize For Homophobic Tweets From The Past.' The word 'again' was left out. Everybody took those headlines and started to run with it. So now the slander on my name is all 'homophobia.' Now I'm a little upset. I'm a little 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 apologies, I've taken ten years to put my apology to work. I've yet to go back to that version of the immature comedian that I once was. I've moved on. ... I look at life through a different lens, and because of that I live it a different way."
DeGeneres revealed that she contacted the Academy to talk with them about the situation.
"I called them," she said. "I said, 'Kevin’s on, I have no idea if he wants to come back and host, but what are your thoughts?' And they were like, 'Oh my God, we want him to host! We feel like that maybe he misunderstood or it was handled wrong. Maybe we said the wrong thing but we want him to host. Whatever we can do we would be thrilled. And he should host the Oscars.'"
DeGeneres made clear that she wants Hart to reconsider his decision to walk away from the hosting gig. "I know you are not that guy because I know you," she said. "I think the night will be about you, and it should be about you, and you should host the Oscars, and I'm going to talk you into it."
While she said she is very "sensitive" to homophobic language as a gay person, she stressed that Hart has "already expressed that it's not being educated on the subject, not realizing how dangerous those words are, not realizing how many kids are killed for being gay or beaten up every day."
Agreeing that he has "grown" and changed and fully "apologized," Ellen said, "Don’t let those people win. Host the Oscars."
As highlighted by The Hollywood Reporter, DeGeneres' defense of Hart has prompted backlash from LGBT activists, including some who appear to be (former) fans, who are unwilling to forgive Hart and now blame Ellen for being "in his corner." A few examples from the flood of negative responses (warning: some language):