Tuesday’s news that Empire star Jussie Smollett was attacked in what Chicago police are investigating as a suspected hate crime has prompted outrage and sadness from several high-profile figures, including Zendaya, Steve Harvey and Cher. Nancy Pelosi called it “an affront to our humanity,” while Emma Watson lashed out at the “ugly prejudice and bigotry behind this violence.”
Kevin Hart also voiced his disgust at the attack, during which police say the openly gay Smollett was subjected to racist and homophobic slurs while a noose was put around his neck and an “unknown chemical substance” was poured on him. Smollett also confirmed to police that his two attackers shouted, “MAGA country.”
Hart addressed the “unbelievably sad” attack in an Instagram post and a video posted to Instagram Stories, in which he decried society going “backwards.”
“We as people have to do better,” the comedian wrote. “WTF is going on the world???? Why are we falling in love with hate???? … I will forever choose love and I will continue to teach my kids how to do the same. Stand strong brother.”
Despite the seemingly heartfelt statement, Hart is facing new scrutiny over the homophobic jokes he made during old stand-up routines and on Twitter. The off-color remarks, in which Hart joked about discouraging his son from being gay, caused backlash that resulted in his stepping down from hosting this year’s Oscars ceremony. Ellen DeGeneres was also criticized for saying Hart should be given a “second chance.”
Hart’s critics say the attack on Smollett, a black gay man, illustrates why his homophobic jokes were so reviled.
This is why someone’s jokes about beating their gay son were never funny
— Ira (@ira) January 29, 2019
But keep joking about beating up your kid for being gay, Kevin Hart!
— sam greisman (@SAMGREIS) January 29, 2019
Where’s Kevin Hart and DL Hughley with some more of their little homophobic jokes? Since it’s all just funny and accountability isn’t important.
— Preston Mitchum (@PrestonMitchum) January 29, 2019
Given what we’ve seen so far, I fully expect the men who attacked Jussie Smollett to score a sit-down interview with Ellen at some point in the next few weeks. Maybe it will be a roundtable discussion with Kevin Hart.
— Saeed Jones (@theferocity) January 29, 2019
This is your reminder that Kevin Hart was given a publicity tour to declare that being an ally to LGBTQ folks is not his life's goal or dream and that he's done apologizing. This is your reminder that his jokes reflect actual attitudes that produce what happened to Jussie.
— Dana (@DanaVivianWhite) January 29, 2019
Queer Eye co-host Jonathan Van Ness, meanwhile, responded to Hart’s Instagram post by offering a teaching moment — though some Hart fans accused him of picking on the Jumanji star.
“Queer people need straight people to be very clear about why people choose hate; they chose hate because they don’t know better,” he wrote. “That’s why we need allies to call homophobia what it is by name and stand in solidarity in name with LGBTQ people.”
Others put it more bluntly.
Keep yo tears n prayers…This is why yo joke was important and such an issue
— Jerry Ford, Jr., MPP♦️ (@JerryFordJr) January 30, 2019
You’re…… you’re joking, right?
— RΔE (@1Rae_XO) January 30, 2019
You should have just sat there and ate your food, Kevin. Ain’t nobody trying to watch you use this for an op.
— Dimitrius Jones (@iDimitriusJones) January 30, 2019
Hart later hit back at one critic, insisting that he had changed for the better over the years.
I stand with a man in his time of hurt and need by giving him heart felt support and u take the time to harp on my 10yr past that I have apologized about and moved on from by being a better person. Do you want change? If so I am an example of what u want people to do…CHANGE! https://t.co/Ybbo8OYKTt
— Kevin Hart (@KevinHart4real) January 30, 2019
Because she defended Hart on her show this month, DeGeneres is also facing backlash. Her tweet of support for Smollett, who came out as gay on her show, has been criticized by those who think she sold out the LGBTQ community by backing Hart in the face of an uproar over his homophobic past.
Four years ago, @JussieSmollett came out on my show. I’m sending him and his family so much love today. ❤️
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) January 29, 2019
Where’s @KevinHart4real at tho sis? This LGBTQ ally you propping up for us. We’re waiting.
— Kenny Sullivan (@kennysullivan) January 29, 2019
Really inserting your show here? It’s just sad. What about the guy who joked about beating his kid if they were gay that you forgave for all of us? Jokes like that make this type of violence possible. You’re part of the problem Ellen
— Judah Robinson (@judah_robinson) January 30, 2019
And less than four weeks ago, you sat across from Kevin Hart and said "Don't let those people win.” But “those people” whom you described as “haters” were queer black people hoping that you’d take the relationship between language and violence more seriously. https://t.co/k7uW8xG9gf
— Saeed Jones (@theferocity) January 30, 2019
This post has been updated to include reactions to Ellen DeGeneres’s tweet and Kevin Hart’s response.
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