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Ellen DeGeneres still wants Kevin Hart to host the Oscars. Her support has sparked new backlash.

The comedians will discuss Hart’s Oscars controversy on Ellen. But their chat itself is already controversial.

People’s Choice Awards 2017 - Show
Kevin Hart and Ellen DeGeneres at the People’s Choice Awards in January 2017.
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for People’s Choice Awards
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Just under a month since comedian Kevin Hart stepped down from hosting the Oscars amid backlash, an appeal to reinstate him in the role has come from a powerful voice — Ellen DeGeneres.

Hart retreated from the gig just days after he accepted it, after a wave of public outrage over a 2010 comedy routine and a series of homophobic tweets, including one from 2012 in which he joked about hitting his son for having a “gay moment.” But according to the Hollywood Reporter, DeGeneres later called the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to support Hart and ask for his reinstatement — and that Hart, in a conversation set to air on Ellen on Friday, is reevaluating his decision to step down.

THR reports that DeGeneres says during Friday’s episode of Ellen that the Academy never wanted Hart to resign his position at all — merely to apologize for his old tweets. Per the outlet’s account of the taping of Hart’s segment, she describes her conversation with eager Academy representatives as follows:

“I called them, 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.’”

As one of the most powerful and visible queer people in Hollywood, DeGeneres’s support of Hart will inevitably go a long way toward quelling criticism of Hart, who was initially very defensive after the homophobic aspects of his comedy resurfaced, but who ultimately said that he was stepping down as Oscars host so that he wouldn’t “be a distraction on a night that should be celebrated by so many amazing talented artists.”

DeGeneres, however, tweeted early Friday morning that she believes in Hart, and that she feels he was authentic.

For his part, Hart voices concern during the Ellen segment that “the slander on my name is all [about alleged] homophobia” and asserts that “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 10 years to put my apology to work ... I’m a guy that understands now — I look at life through a different lens ... I don’t joke like that anymore because that was wrong.”

Hart also reiterates that he doesn’t want to be a distraction on Oscar night, and added, “Either my apology is accepted or it isn’t; either I can move forward or I can’t.”

In response, DeGeneres encourages Hart to return to the gig. “You have grown, you have apologized, you are apologizing again right now,” she says. “You’ve done it. Don’t let those people win — host the Oscars.”

But plenty of onlookers have voiced concerns that Hart never truly apologized for making the homophobic comedy to begin with, and that despite DeGeneres’s enthusiasm for Hart, he seems to have learned very little in the ensuing debate.

Many people have also argued on social media that both Hart and DeGeneres have minimized the people who are offended by Hart’s comedy. Before stepping down in December, Hart initially referred to his detractors on Instagram as “trolls”; on her show, DeGeneres characterizes the reaction as coming from “haters.”

In the wake of DeGeneres’s support of Hart, she’s facing a backlash of her own from members of the queer community who are dissatisfied with what they perceive as her entitled attempt to speak on their behalf. Writing for Vogue, Bridget Read noted, “No one else seems to be seeing the growth that DeGeneres claims Hart has displayed,” and characterized DeGeneres as disconnected from the conversation happening in queer spaces online.

DeGeneres’s decision to not only bolster Hart but allow him to amplify and repeat his initial dismissal of his critics as reactionary trolls has left many of those critics feeling dismayed and betrayed by DeGeneres herself. Kevin Fallon, writing for the Daily Beast, pointed out that the conversation around Hart’s past behavior was initially heated because of his refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of the complaints against him — and that now, both Hart and DeGeneres have doubled down on that stance despite everything. “Both DeGeneres and Hart, in this conversation, were in positions of power to create a tangible change in our culture about responsibility, liability, humor, acceptance, and harm,” he wrote. “It should have been the teaching moment so many were waiting for. How is it possible then that they both made the situation worse?”

So far, the Ellen segment appears to have hurt both Hart and DeGeneres rather than helped him make a case to return to the Oscars berth. Ironically, it now appears that regardless of who hosts the Oscars in the end, Hart’s fear of overshadowing the actual Oscar-nominated performances has already come to pass. “I’m not sure how anyone wins in that scenario,” Fallon added, “honestly, including Hart.”

Several of the clips featuring Hart have already been released online, but the full conversation will air Friday on NBC at 3 pm Eastern.

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