My personal view on Mel Gibson is this: he is a talented, brutal film director, and his future films really ought to be made and watched.
I felt the same way about Leni Riefenstahl, incidentally, and I think film history is poorer for her ostracism.
Like most Americans of his age, when he’s drunk and angry, Gibson rants about the Jews. Like most Germans of her time, Leni Riefenstahl didn’t really do anything to oppose the Hitler regime and actively cooperated with it. I would not suggest that either ever adequately apologized or atoned.
If Gibson were ever to apologize or atone, it would have to begin with an abject acknowledgment of his own antisemitism, not the denials and justifications we have seen so far. He would have to acknowledge that he hates and fears the Jews, that he is trying to understand this and to change.
Enter Kevin Hart.
He has said a bunch of stuff on Twitter about gay people over the years. By now, you know what it is. On a comedy special, he said this, “Me, as a heterosexual male, if I can prevent my son from being gay, I will.”
He has since then apologized for “insensitive words from my past.” He has said that he should not have to “justify or explain the past.” He has said he has “moved on.” He has “matured.” He has criticized those who would criticize his hateful words as making “a malicious attack on my character,” adding, “All I do is spread positivity.” (How dare they quote me accurately! Have they no shame?) On his remark that he would do everything in his power to cure his son of his homosexuality, he has said, “I wouldn’t tell that joke today, because when I said it, the times weren’t as sensitive as they are.” And this: “I don’t have a homophobic bone in my body.”
Well, maybe Hart doesn’t have any homophobic bones, but either he has homophobic brain cells, or he was willing to foment the worst sort of hatred, for years, to curry favor with a homophobic audience.
The above-quoted remark from his comedy special was hardly a “joke,” as he has characterized it. It was a little piece of viciousness, without humor or wit. Would he not tell it today because he realizes it was wrong? Or because audiences today are more sensitive than they were back then, in 2010?
His apology was worthless, dismissive, as though words from his past were the equivalent of words from someone else. I apologize for my brother’s behavior, all those years ago.
Any true apology, any true reckoning, would address this issue: is Kevin Hart a former-homophobe, who now realizes how wrong he was, someone who would now accept and love his son even if the boy were gay? Or is he a man who once told homophobic jokes on stage, and on Twitter, because he knew they would resonate with a certain bigoted audience, and who now realizes how much that sort of opportunism damages our society, and who would never do it again? People were murdered because of the sort of attitude that, until very recently, Kevin Hart championed. Truly changing means coming to terms with what he did, and explaining why he did it.
Ellen DeGeneres has now come to Hart’s defense, and she is free to enjoy his comedy and to champion him, just as I am free to enjoy Mel Gibson movies, The Great Gatsby and Prufrock. But let’s not pretend that he has apologized or atoned. He has not. And it is very unlikely that a man who has failed to grapple with what he did in the past has truly changed.