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About Kevin Hart and that Oscar-hosting job: short-lived, it turns out!

It’s (still) a thankless job, and now the comedian’s not doing it

10:17 AMUPDATE — Well, so much for that “safe choice” idea. After a whirlwind news cycle of backlash about a history of anti-gay tweets and statements in his stand-up, Kevin Hart is no longer hosting the 91st Oscars.

He backed out Thursday night after announcing that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had given him an ultimatum: apologize for anti-gay statements he made, including his wishes that his own son not be gay, or forfeit the Oscars.

Hart chose to forfeit.

So now it’s back to square one for the academy, which should maybe just give the job to the much funnier Wanda Sykes and let her do whatever she pleases.

Here’s our not-so-hot take from earlier:

Is there any more dubious high-profile honor these days than being tapped to host the Academy Awards?

It’s doubtful.

And yet, come February, a significant portion of us will watch Kevin Hart host the film industry’s annual dog and pony show, where he will be the fourth black person to host in the show’s 91-year history, following Richard Pryor, Whoopi Goldberg and Chris Rock. What should we take from this decision? Well, low expectations, for one. Here’s why:

Hart is a safe choice for appealing to a big, broad audience

For years, the Oscars have been hemorrhaging viewers. But in 2018 that number dipped to an all-time low of just 26.5 million people. That’s pretty dismal, considering that film is still one of America’s chief cultural exports. Meanwhile, the crazy schlockfest that is Eurovision drew 186 million viewers this year.

Numbers like this do not exactly thrill network executives. But the only thing worse than declining ratings and relevance is declining relevance and ratings plus being cringe-inducingly offensive. Naming Hart signals that producers are not looking for someone to shake things up, but that they don’t want someone who will make an already bad situation worse. Sure, Hart’s self-effacing short man shtick is old, but it’s also safe. If the worst review of the Oscars is “blandly inoffensive,” chances are producers, at this point, will chalk it up as a win — especially if no one announces the wrong winner for best picture.

Hosting the Oscars is a thankless gig

Does anyone actually enjoy hosting the Oscars anymore? No, the answer is no. Just ask James Franco.

This probably has something to do with the fact that there is no winning at Oscar hosting. As an audience, all of us are accustomed to having our increasingly fragmented tastes recognized and catered to more than we used to be. Blame the Netflix algorithm.

And so each year, it gets harder and harder to find someone who is widely beloved and willing to risk becoming significantly less so in a matter of four hours.

Instead, Oscar producers are tasked with finding someone whose career can withstand the momentary hit associated with being the face of a mind-numbingly dull telecast. Who among us, if not Hart, is capable of such a feat? Admit it, the man knows his lane, and he’s going to ride it until the wheels fall off. Good for him.

Hart’s hosting is not blackwashing

April Reign’s #OscarsSoWhite hashtag has done valuable work in drawing attention to the problem of disproportionate whiteness in filmmaking. So it’s understandable that viewers might be skeptical that hiring Hart is a form of pandering that will shut up those who speak loudly about Hollywood’s lack of diversity.

That’s not the case this year, though. The 2019 Oscars will likely include multiple nominations for Black Panther. It’s practically a shoo-in for one of 10 best picture slots, but also for costume design, production design and best original song. (If the producers have any sense, they will beg Kendrick Lamar and SZA to perform “All the Stars.”)

Additionally, the cast, producers and director of If Beale Street Could Talk should expect some love — especially Regina King. Mahershala Ali could very well find himself nominated for his work in Green Book, and BlacKkKlansman may find its way to a best picture nod too. Best director might be a bit more of a stretch for Spike Lee, but let’s wait and see. And don’t be surprised if Steve McQueen gets a nomination for best adapted screenplay, alongside co-writer Gillian Flynn, for Widows.

Could there be more? Of course. But this is hardly a situation where the pool of nominees will look like they all descended from the Abominable Snowman.

This post was originally published on Dec. 5, 2018.