Kevin Hart is on the defense again after a chilly response on social media to his expression of support for “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, who was hospitalized this week after a reported racist and homophobic attack in Chicago.
Smollett told police he was was approached early Tuesday by two masked men who shouted “racial and homophobic slurs” before punching him in the face, pouring an unknown chemical on him and wrapping a rope around his neck. The actor, who is gay, reportedly told investigators his attackers cited President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan during the assault.
The reported crime prompted an outpouring of support from Smollett’s “Empire” co-stars, as well as other celebrities like John Legend, Margaret Cho and Billy Eichner. Hart sympathized late Tuesday on Twitter and Instagram, urging Smollett to “stand strong brother.”
Almost immediately, the comedian’s remarks sparked a backlash on social media. Many called attention to Hart’s controversial use of anti-gay jokes in both his comedy sketches and on Twitter.
Many of Hart’s LGBTQ-referencing jokes and tweets dated back to 2010 and 2011, before he was an established name in Hollywood. They resurfaced in the media in December, after the comedian was announced as the host of the 91st Academy Awards, set to take place on Feb. 24.
Hart initially refused to apologize for his statements, claiming he’d previously done so in interviews (though evidence of that is scant). Days after his Oscars gig was announced, he stepped down as the host and apologized.
On Wednesday, Hart shot back at those who criticized his support of Smollett, pointing to himself as “an example” of the type of “change” LGBTQ advocates were encouraging.
Chicago police haven’t publicly identified any suspects in Smollett’s attack, but released images of “potential persons of interest” late Wednesday.
Smollett, meanwhile, has left Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital after being treated for cuts to his face and neck. He’s set to return to the concert stage Saturday for a previously scheduled performance in Los Angeles.
The actor’s representative, Pamela Sharp, has said he is “recovering well.”