Actor Jonah Hill has apologized over his use of a homophobic slur toward an aggressive paparazzo. After being harassed by the camera person following a meal with close friends, the 30-year-old lost his temper and yelled out the anti-gay term. Following the incident, Hill apologized twice; once on The Howard Stern Show on Tuesday and once again on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on Wednesday. Hill’s apologetic stance follows many other apologies given by celebrities who find themselves in hot water when certain negative words are publicly uttered by them. But unlike those other famous people, Hill did something that was powerful and in turn, made his apology matter more: he blamed no one else but himself.
As he sat with Fallon on the NBC late-night talk show, Hill became emotional as he shared his take on what occurred. A well-known LGBT ally, Hill expressed that in that moment, he had reached a point of no control. In his mind, he simply wanted to hurt the person who had been hurting him.
“I said the most hurtful word that I could think of at that moment,” he admitted. “I didn’t mean it in a homophobic way. I think that that doesn’t matter. How you mean things doesn’t matter.”
He took things a step further and admitted that he realized that no matter how upset he was, he knew it was wrong to take it that far.
“The word I chose was grotesque,” he expressed, “and no one deserves to say or hear words like that.”
This instance immediately brings to mind the plight of another famous actor, Alec Baldwin. In November of last year, the former 30 Rock star was caught in a bust-up of his own with another paparazzo. In the heat of the moment, Baldwin said the same word that Hill used. He issued an apology of sorts as time went on, but the sincerity seemed to be lost from the very beginning.
For starters, he vehemently denied even using the word at first, although it was caught on camera. Also, he brought out the common excuse that so many others have played when they are caught in this very harsh position: “I cannot be a homophobe; I have a bunch of friends who are gay.”
Trotting around a gay friend as part of your reasoning comes off slightly asinine and almost vulgar. Whether or not that friend forgives you is something for them to decide, but just because you have that person in your life does not make it right. The apology comes off less than genuine and there is almost a hidden attachment of, “I have a gay friend and they are fine with it, so I can say what I choose to.”
Even LGBT icons are just as guilty from time to time. Recently, RuPaul fanned the flames of controversy when she spoke on her mind on the debate of another certain word. That word has been considered by many trans* people to be derogatory. Rather than apologize, Ru stated that words only have power if others allow them to have it, that she had friends in the trans* community that understood this and that if people had a problem with her using these words, it was solely on them.
Hill, with his apology, counteracts all sections of her reasoning. Admittedly, certain words and terms should not hurt others, but they do. They are hurled during moments of violence and hate against other people. Secondly, the trans* friends of Ru do not equate to an entire community of people. What works for one may not work for another. Finally, while she may be stronger than others, at least emotionally, not everyone is as lucky to have that thick skin.
Many of her fans are siding with her. Are those same people applauding the approach Hill took in his apology? Hill is a heterosexual man and RuPaul is not, but they are both human. Both have used words that hurt other people. Why does one get away with what the other cannot?
RuPaul may not have set out to make an apology. She considers what she said to be just fine, but others feel differently. Who are we, as a society, to express what people should and should not be bothered by? Jonah Hill realized immediately that the words that came out of his mouth were filled with venom. He did not want to be seen as a hateful person. It is not to say that RuPaul is a hateful person; she has done some amazing things for the LGBT community. Just her notoriety within said community is a big part of that.
With a career spanning decades and a life lived from every corner of good and bad, she does have the right to express herself as she sees fit. But with taking that into account, it is only fair to understand that certain words can hurt. An apology from RuPaul is not needed, but there is a difference between being apologetic and showing compassion toward others.
Hill did something truly meaningful. He never once brought in another person or attempted to shift the blame. Yes, people say bad things out of anger all of the time. Sometimes, they say things as a joke, even when others do not find the premise funny. It is what we do after the fact that expresses who we hope to be. In the case of Hill, he hoped to use the moment as a platform for others to learn that words can hurt, and sometimes, they hurt more than their intended target.
“If you’re watching this and you’re a young person,” he shared, “use me as an example of what not to do. You’re just adding more ugliness to the world.”
Jonah Hill pushed forth sincerity in his acknowledgement as to why what he said was wrong. His apology matters because it was a genuine one. There was no flashy show, no stance of defending his right to use certain words or even a display of his gay friends. He owned his wrong and he is sorry. Let us hope that others take hold of this and realize that in this world, not only do our words matter, but growing from those words sometimes matters a lot more.
Opinion by Jonathan Brown