Kevin Hart is stepping down as Oscars host just two days after the Academy announced he would take on the high-profile gig. The move came amid a mounting controversy after old tweets surfaced in which Hart expressed anti-gay sentiments and used homophobic terminology and slurs.
In a tweet late Thursday, Hart officially withdrew from hosting the Oscars, a role he had long wanted to step into. “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,” Hart wrote.
He added seconds later, “I’m sorry that I hurt people. I am evolving and want to continue to do so. My goal is to bring people together not tear us apart. Much love & appreciation to the Academy. I hope we can meet again.”
Earlier in the evening, Hart had posted an Instagram video from Sydney, Australia, where he is touring, saying that he had refused a demand from the Academy to apologize. He said the Academy gave him an ultimatum: apologize for his old tweets or step down as Oscars host.
“I passed. The reason I passed is because I’ve addressed this several times. This is not the first time this has come up,” he said. “Regardless, to the Academy, I’m thankful for the opportunity, if it goes away, no harm, no foul,” Hart added.
Ironically, in giving up the hosting spot, Hart actually offered the apology that earlier he had refused to provide.
The Academy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
But for the Academy, the situation smacks of déjà vu. In late 2011, Brett Ratner resigned as producer of the 84th Academy Awards after saying “rehearsal is for fags” in a public Q&A for his film Tower Heist. Ratner’s exit led to the departure of Eddie Murphy, that year’s announced host, who stepped down in solidarity. (Billy Crystal filled in.)
Losing Hart as host will put even more pressure on Donna Gigliotti, who is producing the 91st Oscars, set to be broadcast by ABC on Feb. 24. This week’s announcement that Hart would host came relatively late in the process. Now, finding a new host to take on emcee duties could be even more difficult.
Earlier in the day, Hart issued an Instagram video in which he said, “I swear, man, our world is becoming beyond crazy. I’m not going to let the craziness frustrate me or anger me, especially when I worked hard to get to the mental space that I am at now.”
He continued, “My team calls me, ‘Oh my, God, Kevin, this world is upset about tweets you did years ago.’Guys. I’m almost 40 years old. If you don’t believe that people change, grow, evolve as they get older, I don’t know what to tell you. If you want to hold people in a position where they always have to justify or explain their past, then do you. I’m the wrong guy, man,” Hart says. “I’m in a great place, a great mature place, where all I do is spread positivity.”
The tweets in question included a 2011 tweet in which the comedian and movie star had written, “Yo if my son comes home & try’s 2 play with my daughters doll house I’m going 2 break it over his head & say n my voice ‘stop that’s gay.'” In another from 2010, Hart says someone’s profile pic looks “like a gay bill board for AIDS.” In another written in 2009, he called someone a “fat faced fag.”
Those tweets and many more like them could be found as recently as Tuesday, the day Hart was announced as host. But as word of them began to spread in the days following, they began to disappear.
The tweets drew condemnation from the likes of actor-comedian Billy Eichner, who tweeted, “You can tell its not just a joke — there’s real truth, anger & fear behind these. I hope Kevin’s thinking has evolved since 2011.”
Journalist Mark Harris went even further, tweeting the choice of Hart as host was “out-of-sync for a year in which Rami Malek, Melissa McCarthy, Olivia Colman, Mahershala Ali, Richard E. Grant, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Lucas Hedges could all get nominated for playing LBGTQ characters.”
GLAAD reached out to ABC, the Academy and Hart’s management to “discuss his rhetoric and record as well as opportunities for positive LGBTQ inclusion on the Oscars stage,” said Rich Ferraro, chief communications officer for GLAAD. He said they did not immediately respond.
It was not the first time Hart’s thoughts on LGBT people have caused controversy. A 2011 standup routine about his then 3-year-old son having a “gay moment” — “You’ve got to nip it in the bud!” he warned the audience — was criticized as promoting homophobic and dangerous parenting, according to The Guardian.
Pose star Indya Moore — whose groundbreaking trans series drew Golden Globe nominations for best drama and best actor (for Billy Porter) — penned a lengthy Twitter thread that laid into Hart for “sexualizing” his son in his 2011 routine, adding, “‘Your choice to prevent’ your child from being ‘gay’ is fear driver. You ARE homophobic Kevin.”
“You @KevinHart4real are NOT FIT a model, or representative to Host for the @TheAcademy which CELEBRATES & WELCOMES talent of all genders, sexualities, & ethnicities,” Moore continued. Poseexecutive producer Ryan Murphy retweeted several of the tweets.
Hart told Rolling Stone in 2015 that he wouldn’t tell the joke again, “because when I said it, the times weren’t as sensitive as they are now.”
This article originally appeared in THR.com.