Jonah Hill's Apology for Homophobic Slur Is Decent but Not Enough
Over the weekend in Los Angeles, Jonah Hill was caught on tape using a gay slur to insult a paparazzo. Two photographers were following Hill and a friend around the LA neighborhood Larchmont for a while; the video released shows that the photographers, during filming, spoke little to Hill. One said, "I like your shorts, they're very sexy," which might have goaded Hill, but he said nothing. However, at the end of the video, when one paparazzo tells Hill to have a nice day, Hill responded: "Suck my dick, you f****t." Holy hate speech. In an incredibly speedy turnaround, though, the actor went on Howard Stern later Tuesday morning and issued a surprisingly half-decent apology, saying:
This is a heartbreaking situation for me. I'm upset, because from the day I was born and publicly I've been a gay rights activist. Not excusing what I said in any way — just to give it some context — this person had been following me around all day, saying really hurtful things about me and my family, and in that moment, I lost my cool. I grew up with gay family members, I'm leaving here to spend time with one of my best friends and coworkers who is gay, and I'm going to stand at his wedding... I'm not at all defending my choice of words, I'm happy to be the poster boy for thinking about what you said, and how even if you didn't intend them, those words are rooted in hate. What I said in the moment was disgusting; I shouldn't have said that.
Hill also told Stern, "I'm not good at being a famous person," which in the light of his pretty sincere apology, seems backwards. And yes, Hill's apology was decent—compared to the public apologies (or lack thereof) from celebrities after they are caught spitting hate speech or demonstrating discriminatory behavior — but just because, measured up to the lowest common denominator, Hill doesn't seem that bad, his choice of words is still disgusting. Especially for someone who is such an active ally.
What irks me about Hill's apology is his focus inward; he offers his relationships with gay family members and friends as proof, evidence that he couldn't possibly be homophobic if he has those people in his circles. He does, I will say, note that homophobic slurs are rooted in hate — but I wish he'd spoken more to a culture where even the most friendly "allies" like Hill himself have ingrained homophobic influences that come out in moments of subconscious and instinctual rage.
What is it about anger that makes homophobic slurs the go-to to cause hurt and pain? Hill was in a position to start a discussion about the work that still needs to be done to stop hate-speech, and he didn't. I guess that was too much to expect; and while his apology is self-centered and he does seem to make himself a little bit of a victim, by noting that the photographer had been harassing him, at least he touched on the issue of the hate-speech and its roots in hate. But Hill has to realize that being stalked by a photographer for a few hours doesn't compare to the pain caused by homophobia, and the violence and visceral damage that that kind of discrimination incites.
Does he deserve credit for his apology? No one "deserves" credit for apologizing for hateful acts; it's their responsibility. And just because stacked up to other celebrity apologies Hill's is decent, doesn't make it an act of valor. It's better than most, but that doesn't erase the act.