Acad­emy blushes again

Kevin Hart’s hasty exit as host adds to the mo­tion pic­ture group’s woes, in­clud­ing a cat­e­gory stum­ble

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Josh Rot­ten­berg

On Tues­day af­ter­noon, the Acad­emy of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts and Sci­ences brought to­gether mem­bers of the press and a hand­ful of film in­dus­try power play­ers for a lun­cheon to cel­e­brate a happy oc­ca­sion: the un­veil­ing of the ex­hi­bi­tions that its long-awaited mu­seum will fea­ture when it opens late next year.

“It’s a dream come true, the Acad­emy Mu­seum,” acad­emy Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Dawn Hud­son said with a smile as the crowd tucked into plates of branzino and roasted pota­toes on the pent­house f loor of the Petersen Au­to­mo­tive Mu­seum, across the street from the fu­ture Acad­emy Mu­seum of Mo­tion Pic­tures. “So join me in a sigh of re­lief.”

That sense of re­lief wouldn’t last long.

Later on Tues­day, co­me­dian Kevin Hart an­nounced that he would be host­ing the 2019 Os­cars — and within 48 hours, that an­nounce­ment had ex­ploded in the acad­emy’s face as Hart drew wide­spread crit­i­cism for a num­ber of old tweets and jokes that ex­pressed ho­mo­pho­bic sen­ti­ments.

Af­ter delet­ing a num­ber of of­fen­sive tweets, Hart at first pushed back against the rapidly grow­ing out­cry, defiantly vow­ing on his In­sta­gram ac­count that he was “not go­ing to let the crazi­ness frus­trate me or anger me.”

But for an acad­emy that has worked hard in re­cent years to di­ver­sify its ranks and last year adopted a new code of eth­i­cal con­duct for its mem­bers, be­ing as­soci-

ated with such ex­pres­sions of in­tol­er­ance was clearly un­ten­able. The acad­emy urged Hart to is­sue an apol­ogy. He ini­tially de­clined, ex­plain­ing in an In­sta­gram video, “I’ve ad­dressed this sev­eral times.” But by late Thurs­day he had stepped down from the host­ing gig that he had re­garded as a life­long dream.

“I do not want to be a dis­trac­tion on a night that should be cel­e­brated by so many amaz­ing tal­ented artists,” Hart wrote on Twit­ter. “I sin­cerely apol­o­gize to the LGBTQ com­mu­nity for my in­sen­si­tive words from my past.”

For Hart, who has starred in box of­fice hits such as “Ju­manji: Wel­come to the Jun­gle” and “Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence,” the episode is cer­tain to carry its own st­ing. But for the acad­emy, it high­lights the in­creas­ing chal­lenge, in this age of in­tense so­cial me­dia scru­tiny and in­stant vi­ral con­tro­ver­sies, of finding a host who has a com­pletely un­blem­ished pub­lic record.

“While now it seems rea­son­able and ap­pro­pri­ate to ‘vet’ the host, I don’t think that was ever a con­sid­er­a­tion in the past,” said pro­ducer and for­mer stu­dio ex­ec­u­tive Bill Me­chanic, who pro­duced the Os­cars tele­cast with Adam Shankman in 2010. “I know it wasn’t the year I pro­duced. Cer­tainly things have changed, and af­ter this year it will have to be done.”

Ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with the process but not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly, Hart had been on a list of po­ten­tial hosts that ABC, which airs the Os­cars, had ap­proved, but se­lect­ing him was ul­ti­mately the acad­emy’s de­ci­sion. Two other stars ahead of Hart on the list, in­clud­ing Dwayne Johnson, were in­ter­ested but not avail­able due to movie pro­duc­tion com­mit­ments. Hart was will­ing and avail­able.

Jimmy Kim­mel, who hosted the past two years, did not want to do it again, ac­cord­ing to this source, in part be­cause he was told the acad­emy did not think the ev­ery­man-type com­edy he did on the show — in­clud­ing sur­pris­ing peo­ple at a nearby movie the­ater by show­ing up with Gal Gadot, Mark Hamill and other stars and hand­ing out snacks — was pres­ti­gious enough for the broad­cast.

The acad­emy did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

The Hart flap caps a tu­mul­tuous pe­riod for the acad­emy in which the group — al­ready try­ing to re­cover from the #Os­carsSoWhite firestorm and the bun­gled an­nounce­ment at the 2017 tele­cast of the wrong best pic­ture win­ner — has weath­ered one cri­sis af­ter an­other.

In March, shortly af­ter the acad­emy ejected disgraced film mogul Har­vey We­in­stein from its ranks, the group’s new pres­i­dent, John Bai­ley, was him­self in­ves­ti­gated for sex­ual ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions, of which he was ul­ti­mately cleared. In Septem­ber, the acad­emy said it was shelv­ing a pro­posed new Os­car for out­stand­ing achieve­ment in pop­u­lar film less than a month af­ter it was an­nounced, fol­low­ing wide­spread crit­i­cism that it rep­re­sented a bla­tant act of pan­der­ing. And just this week, the acad­emy re­vealed that it was once again push­ing back open­ing its lon­gover­due mu­seum, which has been be­set by delays and cost over­runs, to late 2019.

Be­yond these headaches, the acad­emy faces a deeper ex­is­ten­tial dilemma. Rat­ings for the all-im­por­tant Os­cars tele­cast, from which the group draws the bulk of its revenue — $122.9 mil­lion for fis­cal year 2016-17, ac­cord­ing to the group’s most re­cent an­nual re­port — have been steadily de­clin­ing. March’s tele­cast reached an all-time low au­di­ence of 26.5 mil­lion view­ers.

In tap­ping Hart, who boasts an enor­mous so­cial me­dia fol­low­ing and a large base of young fans, the acad­emy had hoped to re­verse that slide. With the show slated for Feb. 24, the acad­emy and this year’s tele­cast’s pro­duc­ers, Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss, must now go back to the draw­ing board to find a new em­cee.

De­spite the glit­ter­ing pres­tige as­so­ci­ated with the Acad­emy Awards, host­ing the Os­cars is widely re­garded as one of the most dif­fi­cult — and of­ten thank­less — gigs in Hol­ly­wood.

“Ugh, who wants that job?” ac­tor Jack Black told The Times in 2015. “If you [blow it], ev­ery­one hates you. If you crush it, then you could some­day, what, be­come the host of a TV show or some­thing? I don’t know what it’s for. It’s so stress­ful.”

The acad­emy faced a sim­i­lar cri­sis in 2011 when its planned pro­ducer for the tele­cast, Brett Rat­ner, dropped out af­ter be­ing blasted for com­ment­ing that “re­hearsal is for fags.” Rat­ner’s cho­sen host, Ed­die Mur­phy, also stepped down and was ul­ti­mately re­placed by vet­eran em­cee Billy Crys­tal for his ninth stint.

“No other awards show faces the scru­tiny of the Os­cars — that’s good in that peo­ple care but bad in most other ways,” said Me­chanic, who re­signed from the acad­emy’s board of gover­nors ear­lier this year, is­su­ing a sting­ing let­ter in which he crit­i­cized what he saw as poor lead­er­ship. “One of the big­gest problems is it’s damn near im­pos­si­ble to find the ‘right’ host. There’s no get­ting it right. Peo­ple you want won’t even take your phone call. The latenight hosts tend to work off topi­cal po­lit­i­cal hu­mor and have very lit­tle movie roots. Our big­gest stars most of­ten are no’s from the get-go.”

Fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing the search, the pub­lic mi­cro­scope on state­ments and so­cial me­dia post­ings of Hol­ly­wood lu­mi­nar­ies has only in­ten­si­fied. This sum­mer, Walt Dis­ney Stu­dios fired James Gunn as di­rec­tor of the hugely suc­cess­ful “Guardians of the Galaxy” fran­chise af­ter tweets were un­earthed in which he joked darkly about such sen­si­tive top­ics as pe­dophilia and rape.

De­spite the chal­lenges, there is lit­tle doubt that the acad­emy — which has in the past an­nounced hosts as late as Jan­uary — will find a new em­cee for this year’s Os­cars. For all its at­ten­dant per­ils, host­ing the Acad­emy Awards still gives a per­former a mas­sive plat­form — and with the em­cee typ­i­cally re­quir­ing four weeks of prepa­ra­tion and re­hearsal to get ready for the show, the acad­emy still has some time, though not much.

Still, com­ing so closely on the heels of the fiz­zled most pop­u­lar Os­car gam­bit, the Hart im­broglio is likely to con­tinue to fuel ques­tions about what many see as a lack of di­rec­tion and clar­ity of vi­sion for the film in­dus­try’s lead­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Speak­ing to The Times last year, Hud­son ac­knowl­edged that her lead­er­ship has been po­lar­iz­ing at times. But she in­sisted that just goes with the ter­ri­tory when one is try­ing to steer a 91year-old, tra­di­tion-bound in­sti­tu­tion through a pe­riod of tran­si­tion and un­prece­dented chal­lenges.

“There’s an idea of change and then there’s ac­tu­ally go­ing through change — and some­times it’s harder to go through it,” Hud­son said. “That’s hu­man. … It can feel a lit­tle scary. But I think over­all, peo­ple see the strides we’ve made.”

In the wake of the Hart flap, acad­emy mem­bers reached by The Times on Fri­day be­moaned what they saw as the group’s lat­est black eye and ques­tioned who de­served the blame for it — men­tion­ing Hud­son, Bai­ley and Gigliotti — be­yond Hart’s own ac­tions. One mem­ber was of­fended by Hart’s tweets, while oth­ers still hadn’t read them. But all agreed that hir­ing a host, par­tic­u­larly aco­me­dian, is only go­ing to get more dif­fi­cult go­ing for­ward.

“They should con­sider just not hav­ing a host, like they have many times in the past,” said one mem­ber, who de­clined to speak on the record given the sen­si­tiv­ity of the sub­ject. “Why not try it? They’d skirt all these is­sues and save them­selves all the grief and risk of con­tro­versy. Just do a bunch of in­tro­duc­tions and call it a day.”

‘There’s an idea of change and then there’s ac­tu­ally go­ing through change — and some­times it’s harder to go through it.’ — Dawn Hud­son, the acad­emy’s chief ex­ec­u­tive

Va­lerie Ma­con AFP / Getty Im­ages

MO­TION PIC­TURE acad­emy ex­ec­u­tives and mu­seum staffers were smil­ing on Tues­day when exhibits for the un­der-con­struc­tion fa­cil­ity were un­veiled. At cen­ter: Pres­i­dent John Bai­ley, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Dawn Hud­son.

Robert Gau­thier Los An­ge­les Times

KEVIN HART was an­nounced Tues­day as host of the Os­cars cer­e­mony, but late Thurs­day he pulled out af­ter crit­i­cism of some past ho­mo­pho­bic state­ments.

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