NEW YORK (NYTimes) – Days after it was announced that Kevin Hart would host the 2019 Academy Awards, backlash over some of his past comments prompted him to respond to his critics on Instagram.

Then, on Friday (Dec 7), he announced that he was not going to host the event.

Hart was in trouble because several of his tweets and comments – most of them several years old – used the word “gay” as an insult or were otherwise deemed homophobic.

In his initial response, hours before stepping down, Hart did not apologise.

“Guys, I’m almost 40 years old,” he said in a video. “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 the past, then do you. I’m the wrong guy, man. I’m in a great place. A great mature place where all I do is spread positivity.”

Two and a half hours later, he tweeted: “I have made the choice to step down from hosting the Oscars. 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 apologise for my insensitive words from my past.”

In another tweet, he wrote: “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.”

Fans of Hart had lauded the decision to have the celebrity comedian host the Oscars that has been struggling with sinking ratings, and some political backlash.

Critics said the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences overlooked black actors, writers and directors in 2015 and 2016, setting off the #OscarsSoWhite outcry and efforts to make the academy more inclusive.

Hart, 39, recently starred in two hits, Night School and Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, and is in the midst of an international standup tour.

But the announcement of his Oscar stint saw a resurfacing of his old comments and tweets. Mr Benjamin Lee, an editor with The Guardian, captured some of those tweets as screenshots and shared them on his own Twitter account.

“Yo if my son comes home & try 2 play with my daughters doll house I’m going 2 break it over his head & say ‘stop, that’s gay’,” one of the tweets said.

Hart has also brought up homophobia in his comedy shows.

“One of my biggest fears is my son growing up and being gay,” he said in a 2010 standup performance. “That’s a fear. Keep in mind, I’m not homophobic. I have nothing against gay people. Be happy. Do what you want to do. But me being a heterosexual male, if I can prevent my son from being gay, I will.”

Five years later, he discussed that joke in an interview with Rolling Stone.

“I wouldn’t tell that joke today, because when I said it, the times weren’t as sensitive as they are now,” he said. “I think we love to make big deals out of things that aren’t necessarily big deals, because we can.

“These things become public spectacles. So why set yourself up for failure?”

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