The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences is weighing a host-less Oscars this year after comedian Kevin Hart quit amid a firestorm of criticism over the resurfacing of previous gay jokes, according to a report.
Academy leadership is “scrambling” to replace Kevin Hart while mulling several other options, including not having a host at all this year, reports Variety’s Matt Donnelly, citing sources with knowledge of the ongoing matter. Capping a swift and dramatic fallout, Hart wrote on Twitter just after midnight Thursday that he was withdrawing as Oscars host because he didn’t want to be a distraction. “I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past,” said the Central Intelligence star.
I have made the choice to step down from hosting this year's Oscar's….this is because I do not want to be a distraction on a night that should be celebrated by so many amazing talented artists. I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past.
— Kevin Hart (@KevinHart4real) December 7, 2018
Academy brass were said to have been “blindsided” by the comedian’s resignation and will discuss next steps at Tuesday’s Board of Governors meeting. One unnamed comedy agent told Variety that the award show’s producers failed to prepare backup plans for Hart’s ouster, saying “They’re freaking out” at the Academy.
The Oscars have a longstanding host problem, yet Hart’s swift resignation has led to bigger questions about the gig and the liability of social media histories. It’s just the latest controversy for the organization that puts on the Academy Awards, which is trying to combat declining ratings for its marquee event while weathering the pressure of being a focal point for the shortcomings of the entertainment industry as a whole.
“I think it’s embarrassing,” Matthew Belloni, the editorial director of The Hollywood Reporter, said about the academy’s decision to pick Hart. “It shows that they either didn’t vet this host properly, or they did vet him and didn’t think this would be an issue. And both are a little troubling.”
Hart seemed to fit the bill for what the Academy was looking for.
“He checks all the boxes for a show like the Oscars,” Belloni said. “He’s a legitimate movie star. He’s a funny guy and can handle the stand-up element of the show. And he has a gigantic social following. And to the academy, that’s important. They want someone who can bring a new audience to the show.”
But Oscars hosts have always been subjected to a lot of scrutiny.
Poor or even mediocre performances can haunt people for years (Anne Hathaway and James Franco come to mind). Off-color jokes have a way of festering in the cultural consciousness (think of Seth MacFarlane’s “we saw your boobs” song, or Chris Rock’s Asian jokes). And even when things go decently enough, everyone is handed the right envelope and nobody walks away offended, the hosts can still be blamed for poor ratings.
“Oscars host has become a not very desirable job in Hollywood. Very few people see an upside,” Belloni said. “You put a huge target on your back.”
People have stepped down from being the public face of the event amid controversy, as producer Brett Ratner did in 2011 for anti-gay slurs. But Hart’s case is a little different. Ratner’s offensive remarks came after he had secured the gig. Hart’s tweets were from almost a decade ago and were well known.
Others have said Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele, Will Smith, or Lin-Manuel Miranda could take the helm and host. Busy Phillips threw her own name out there (“I AM AVAILABLE,” she tweeted). Philips also proposed Issa Rae, Sarah Silverman, Ali Wong, Samantha Bee, Robin Thede, and Aisha Tyler, or “any other woman working in Hollywood right now who wants to.” Stephen King suggested Patton Oswalt (He’s “funny, sharp-tongued, and he knows film,” King tweeted.) Some have even proposed Philadelphia Flyers mascot Gritty.
However, the film academy will need to move quickly with the Oscars less than three months out. If the Academy opts for a host-less event this year, it would mark the first time doing so since 1989.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.