Ellen DeGeneres became the subject of mounting criticism after seemingly absolving fellow comedian Kevin Hart of his years-old anti-gay tweets during an appearance on her talk show Thursday.
The talk show host provided Hart with the space and platform to discuss what went wrong after he stepped down from hosting the 2019 Academy Awards ceremony, saying in a tweet, “I believe in forgiveness. I believe in second chances. And I believe in @KevinHart4real.”
DeGeneres took her actions a step further and called the Academy, the organization behind the Oscars, to put in a good word for Hart in an effort to get him to resume his duties as host for the upcoming ceremony.
But some — black queer critics in particular — are calling DeGeneres out for being too soft on Hart, as she mainly sat and nodded along to the things he said, while others are upset with the comedian for stepping into a space that she doesn’t necessarily occupy as they believe Hart’s comments mainly affected black queer individuals.
“I’d expected Ellen to ask at least one question to challenge Hart,” DeRay Mckesson, a civil rights activist and host of Pod Save the People told BuzzFeed News.
“Did he understand the crux of the negative response to his post? Does he still hold those beliefs? Did he understand the impact of statements like that?” Mckesson said.
He pointed out that DeGeneres pushed back on Caitlyn Jenner in 2015 when the former athlete shared her puzzling views on same-sex marriage, yet remained mum with Hart.
Though Hart has since apologized for his comments, which included several uses of the word “fag,” some feel as though he still doesn’t behave as if he’s taking responsibility for his past actions.
Mckesson said DeGeneres “allowed her show to be a press conference for Hart in which he again blamed people for being upset instead of taking ownership and actually demonstrating any substantive reflection or apology.”
And there’s a chorus of folks online who feel similarly:
“Where are you allowing the space for those who were harmed to come on your show and talk about it?” writer George M. Johnson asks DeGeneres in a video posted to Twitter.
Tre’vell Anderson, director of culture and entertainment at Out magazine, tweeted, “As a Black queer someone who, when my body began to manifest aspects of my identity even I was unaware of was punched in the chest by Black men in my family and told to ‘man up.’”
“Ellen can’t and doesn’t speak for me,” Anderson said.
Ira Madison III, a television writer for Netflix’s forthcoming postapocalyptic show Daybreak and host of Crooked Media’s Keep It, believes DeGeneres may be a bit out of touch.
“Ellen’s characterization of Kevin’s critics as haters shows that as a celebrity she’s insulated herself from real concerns in the queer community, especially black queer people,” Madison told BuzzFeed News.
There’s been online chatter that Hart hosting the Oscars would show that, as a culture, we allow people to make mistakes and grow and learn from past transgressions. Madison said he never would have cared if Hart had apologized and stepped away as Oscars host, but now it seems as though the comedian is on a “martyrdom tour.”
“It’s a no for me,” Madison said.
On DeGeneres’s show, Hart said he initially ignored the criticism because he had addressed the subject before: “If you feed into that stuff, you only feed more fuel to the fire.” However, Hart’s claim isn’t accurate — he technically never apologized for his actions before being taken to task by critics last year.
As BuzzFeed News’ Adam Vary pointed out on Friday, Hart was once asked about anti-gay jokes a character in 2015’s Get Hard said and his response was, “Funny is funny.” That same day, the entertainment site Vulture conducted an investigation to find the apologies Hart claims existed prior to the one he issued in early December. Vulture found that while the comedian had addressed his anti-gay jokes, he never talked about them or apologized in an earnest way.
“It’s odd that he just can’t say that he understands that the statement was wrong, he doesn’t believe it, and has taken the feedback and grown,” Mckesson said.
Mckesson added that because Hart’s defensiveness on the subject leads him to believe “he doesn’t actually care.”
According to Variety, Hart could still be embraced by the Academy and go on to host the show as originally planned, though the outlet also reported that the ceremony's producer, Donna Gigliotti, has been working hard to create a host-less telecast.
While DeGeneres’s attempt to show Hart grace may have been well-intentioned, Mckesson said he hopes she learns from this moment.
“I hope that Ellen hears and reflects on people’s feedback on her conversation with Kevin,” he said.