*The latest episode in the perpetual discussion about black male emasculation occurred this past week when the latest rising star in comedy (not just black comedy), Kevin Hart, hosted Saturday Night Live (SNL). Kevin Hart’s career is peaking right now.
After two successful movies in the past couple years and a sold-out nationwide tour, Kevin Hart is hitting on all cylinders. You know you’re at the top of your game in American pop culture when two things happen; you’re on the cover of Ebony magazine (which Hart has the April 2013 cover) and you host Saturday Night Live. Now, people might disagree with that first one, but we’re living in an era of “Popular Blackness” right now. Errbody want to be black…until they run into police. But other than that, urban social norms, commonly called, “black culture,” drives American culture and Ebony documents the black experience in ways other periodicals can’t seem to get right.
These two pop culture indicators suggest that Kevin Hart may be the funniest in America right now (except maybe when Katt Williams is on stage and in his right mind). And of course we take great pride when one of our own gets to host the nation’s top pop culture satire platform. It doesn’t happen very often. In fact, it’s rare. SNL is iconic in its no holds barred satire of real life reality and cynical critiques in everything in American society, from politics to race, from anti-intellectualism to pseudo-medicine. SNL will smash it. It was a fit for Kevin Hart’s comedy…right in his wheelhouse…where he’d smash it too. So, Kevin’s funny, SNL’s funny and has great writers that come up with unique material, should be a great show, right? Well, it was except for one skit, that put Kevin Hart in a dress…my night was ruined. Another black man in a dress. The skit a dig at two current events; the raise of 9 year old best actress nominee Quvenzhane Wallis and the special election to replace the resignation of the Pope, the surprise selection is Wallis, played by Hart. WTF!!! It wasn’t funny and now we have to process this.
Why would Kevin Hart allow himself to do this? He certainly didn’t need to put on a dress to be funny. Nor the short jokes. Nor the race jokes. But those didn’t bother me as much as the dress thing. Now this seems to be a perpetual conversation. Most certainly we talk about it every time a Madea movie comes out, but that was Tyler Perry’s shtick from the outset, the character is funny and we can choose to go see it or not go see it. However, when the Dave Chappelle situation came up in 2005, this emasculation politic became a point of public notice.
Now Chappelle was the funniest man in the game and he did some stuff that troubled me, only because it was “over the top” irreverent—but it was funny than a muthaf… Dave Chappelle walked away from $50 million dollars at the peak of his career. The reason why he walked was the pressure to do comedy that he didn’t want to do when he had stepped to the next plateau. So he disappeared and people thought he had lost his mind. But he hadn’t. He found himself and when he returned, he disclosed why he left—part of which were the things he was being asked to do, that not only assaulted his dignity as a comedian but also as a person. When he got to the point where he noticed people were no longer laughing with him, but were laughing at him, he dropped the show and went to Africa for some self reflection.
In his first public interview upon his return, Chappelle tells Oprah Winfrey about this experience that “touched his inner coon” and caused him to step out of what Hollywood was trying to create—something he obviously didn’t want to be. He discusses his own “dress experience” and how he felt Hollywood emasculates black men. It was a deep examination into the soul of one’s desire to be true to oneself. The deepest thing he told Oprah was, “That’s it’s hard to be true to yourself when everybody’s watching.”
That is now Kevin Hart’s dilemma. That wasn’t Kevin Hart comedy we saw on SNL Saturday night. It was an emasculation politic that has touched “all the great ones” when they stepped to the next plateau; Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx, Chris Tucker…and now it has touched Kevin Hart. Maybe Dave Chappelle was on to something.
Hollywood’s emasculation of black men in American popular culture continues…
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist and author of, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21 Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com and on Twitter at @DrAnthonySamad.