CULTURE

Technicalities in Kevin Hart’s $60 Million Sex Tape Lawsuit Conceal Larger Questions

Whether the judge dismisses in this case or not, the larger issues remain in doubt

Amy Sussman/Getty Images and Backgrid

On Friday it was reported that comedian and movie star Kevin Hart was asking the judge to dismiss the $60 million lawsuit that was brought against him by plaintiff Montia Sabbag over a 2017 sex tape.

The suit, which Hart has described as "baseless," was previously dismissed due to errors in filing—before being corrected and filed again—and it's now being challenged on the grounds that Hart was never formally served the court documents. Rather than delivering the documents directly to Hart or an officially sanctioned representative, new court documents allege that a process server working for Sabbag simply "drove by Hart's home and threw a summons and complaint out of a car window."

Kevin Hart Sex Tape A still from the footage leaked to TMZ

A security guard who was stationed outside of Hart's home at the time was the only person connected to Hart who was on hand at the time and was not authorized to accept the documents on Hart's behalf—even if they had been handed over, rather than being strewn on the ground "several yards away from him."

These kinds of legal formalities are often enough to get a case dismissed, and they can lead to mounting legal fees that motivate a plaintiff to drop their suit or settle out of court. If that happens in this case, then the court will never address the big question in this case: Did Hart, as Sabbag claims, conspire to secretly film their sexual encounter in order to gain publicity for a planned comedy tour?

The incident in question took place in a Las Vegas hotel room in 2017, and both parties engaged with each other consensually, though Sabbag asserts that she never agreed to be filmed. At the time, Hart had been married to his wife, Eniko Parrish, for less than a year, and she was eight-months pregnant with their son Kenzo. Hart has publicly apologized for cheating on his wife and expressed remorse for the pain he caused her, saying, "With Eniko, when I got to see the effect my reckless behavior had, that was crushing. That tore me up." Taken in tandem with the fact that Hart's former friend J.T. Jackson allegedly attempted to extort Hart for $5 million in exchange for not releasing the tape, it seems strange that Hart would have planned any publicity surrounding the tape. Sabbag's claim that he was involved in filming her without her consent is harder to counter.

Kevin Hart with Pregnant Eniko Parrish WireImage

Sabbag, who hired attorney Lisa Bloom to represent her in the case (before Bloom's reputation was damaged by revelations of the work she did protecting Harvey Weinstein), also claims that Hart's behavior led her to believe that he wasn't married. She described her impression of him when they met on a private plane from Los Angeles to Las Vegas as "a gentleman, a nice guy," but that opinion evidently changed after footage of the two of them together was leaked to the Internet. Sabbag, who has variously described herself as a recording artist, a makeup artist, and an actress, has denied any involvement in the extortion plot and resisted attempts to label her a "stripper" based on an adult entertainment license in Nevada and an old video of her pole-dancing.

While many plaintiffs in Sabbag's position would likely be dissuaded from going after a famous and wealthy client when faced with continued legal roadblocks, Lisa Bloom—much like her mother, Gloria Allred—often represents women on a pro bono basis in high profile cases like this. Couple that with the notoriety that the aspiring performer has leveraged into photoshoots and interviews, and it seems unlikely that these tactics will deter her.

It remains to be seen if the court will find her case convincing.

FILM

Why Is Ricky Gervais Hosting the Golden Globes Again?

No Host Would Actually Be a Lot Better

People

Last January, Ricky Gervais—who has hosted the Golden Globes four times before—claimed that if he had hosted the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards, "it would have been the end of [my] career."

He said this in the context of expressing his jealousy of Seth Meyers, who hosted that year. In a time of cultural shift and increased sensitivity to various issues, the "comedian" seemed to be suggesting that his particular brand of offensive and insensitive material would both flourish in that context and invite a harsh backlash. It's unclear what, if anything, has changed since then, but it has just been announced that the Hollywood Foreign Press is having Gervais reprise his hosting duties for a fifth time. Why?

Gervais despair "After Life"

Remember when Kevin Hart was bumped from hosting the Oscars because his apology for old homophobic jokes wasn't good enough? Well Gervais has never apologized for his bad jokes. In fact, he continues making them. He is proudly behind the times. He has made an ongoing point of expressing his passionate ignorance of trans issues as crassly and as often as possible. In his Netflix stand-up special, he "jokes" that he has "always felt like a chimp," and he's claimed in various tweets to identify as thin, black, a poor green lesbian, and a comedian. That last one is particularly galling. Can you really be a comedian if you just keep repeating one joke?

It wasn't that long ago that holding transphobic views was the accepted norm, and perhaps it's too much to expect boomers to adjust to new expectations so quickly, but if they want to hang on to their outdated ideas, they could at least do so quietly. Gervais refuses to shut up about his tired politics. Take this brilliant insight into the existence of trans women who haven't opted for—or haven't yet received—gender confirmation surgery:

Gervais c*ck tweet Hilarious...

And all the other times he's made basically the same joke (clearly I was wrong about him having only one joke that he keeps repeating—he has two). Ricky Gervais has made some great television and become a pioneer in early podcasting when he figured out that he could be mean to his friend for an audience. It's unsettling that someone who has contributed so much to culture, who is pretty clever in a lot of what he does, and who seems to have empathy in some matters could think such lame observations count as comedy.

He seems to revel in the suggestion that trans identities are perverse and that trans women who still have the genitals they were born with are fundamentally predatory. Maybe he thinks of his own p-nis as fundamentally predatory? Maybe he thinks that conflating homosexuality and pedophilia is still cool too. He's definitely not as comfortable with homosexuality as he likes to pretend.

Gervais in "Derek" He's also really cool and thoughtful when portraying a character with a developmental disability...NME

So why? Why is anyone involved agreeing to this? I suppose Ricky wants people to pay attention to his Netflix show After Life, and thinks his edgy, recalcitrant ignorance will really shake things up by reasserting a lot of old and tired ideas. And maybe the Hollywood Foreign Press thinks that this will get them the kind of loud, negative attention that they didn't get until after they announced Green Book as the winner last year. After all, there's no such thing as bad press…except the Hollywood Foreign Press. They suck.

Best case scenario: Gervais is right, and this last hosting gig will end his career. Still, it just seems like there must be a better solution. Hmm…

gervais host tweet

Ellen DeGeneres is an inspiring figure.

There are few people as successful as she is who deserve success as much as she does. Her talent and charm are perhaps only matched by the bravery she demonstrated in coming out as a gay woman at a time when that seemed likely to tank her career—and did, in fact, derailed it considerably. Her popularity as a public figure is both a testament to how far our culture has progressed in a relatively short time and undoubtedly a contributing factor in that progress.

Is it any wonder then that, when Ellen came under attack for just being pleasant to a fellow human being, people practically fell over each other to defend and support her? Since issuing her response on Tuesday, she's been hailed as an icon of civility and a too-rare source of hope for the future of our divided nation. Maybe she is those things, and as a general rule, she deserves our support—but she is also absolutely wrong about George W. Bush. Namely, she's ignoring the man's true legacy.

"I'm friends with George Bush. In fact, I'm friends with a lot of people who don't share the same beliefs that I have. We're all different, and I think that we've forgotten that that's okay that we're all different."

Who could argue with that? Differences of belief and opinion are not just a part of friendship; for some people they're the whole basis. And as a morning talk show host, Ellen's job is pretty much to be friends with everyone. While she makes no secret about being generally progressive, she treads lightly when it comes to politics—which is not just smart, but probably necessary for national sanity. Instead of diving into that mess, she thrives in all things cute, silly, and inoffensive.

Her show specializes in harmless pranks, surprises, adorable animals, and child prodigies who make us all feel stupid. It's a world of low-stakes fun, and it's not hard to see how the 2019 version of George W. Bush fits into that world. He's a goofy old man who hasn't been culturally relevant in a decade, and he spends his retirement creating charmingly amateurish paintings of pets, world leaders, and himself bathing. He isn't abrasive and belligerent like Trump. He actually seems pretty humble and sweet, socially.

If I were to meet him without context, I'm sure I would want to be his friend, too, regardless of his personal beliefs. Personal beliefs are a personal matter, and if it were only a matter of beliefs—or even of the social agenda Bush promoted when he was president: pushing for a federal amendment to outlaw gay marriage—then it would be up to each individual to forgive and accept him or not.

This seems to be the frame that Ellen was working from when she paired herself with Bush as "a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president." And in that respect, she no doubt has a lot of practice with forgiveness. After all, 15 years ago, 60% of the country opposed gay marriage, and today more than 60% approve. Should we hold a grudge against that 30% that have changed their minds?

More importantly, should we bother to rehash old issues when a supreme court ruling has rendered them moot? Gay marriage is legal in all 50 states! Portia and Ellen are as married as anyone else. If they don't want to hold onto old resentments over the fight to get there, who are we to tell them otherwise? The problem is: George W. Bush's legacy extends much further than domestic policy. He was once the most powerful man on earth, and the way he wielded that power continues to shape the world for the worse.

George W. Bush is a war criminal.

I'll leave aside waterboarding, Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition, and Abu Ghraib, because there is far too much to talk about in one article, and none of those topics are as cut and dry as the Iraq War.

George W. Bush wanted to go to war with Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein was an evil man, and Bush had inherited a grudge from his father—along with an oil lust from his Vice President. But the world has no shortage of evil men, so he needed a stronger justification to send the country into a massive war.

Colin Powell lying to the UN

In that respect, 9/11 justified the inevitable. It got the whole country so fired up for a fight that there was enough energy for more than one. So George W. Bush and his administration lied. They drew vague, imaginary connections between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, then they manufactured evidence of a weapons program that was even more of a fantasy. They manipulated the media, coerced false testimony, ignored voices of reason, and lied, and lied.

They got the country on board through any means necessary, and thrust us into a multi-trillion-dollar war without a plan for the fallout. As a result of that war, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children have died, millions have been driven from their homes, the entire region has been destabilized, and ISIS formed and flourished in the vacuum of power. We are living in the world that George W. Bush's war created, and we are far worse for it, regardless of his "beliefs."

Is it even possible for someone with such a toxic legacy to earn our forgiveness? Someone who has caused so much misery and turmoil? We may never know… because George W. Bush has never apologized. Maybe all that pain he caused was the result of some mistaken beliefs on his part. Maybe his beliefs have evolved, and he regrets what he did. As of yet, he's given us no reason to suspect that he sees anything in his legacy that would require an apology. It seems unlikely that he will ever give the world that opportunity to forgive him, yet so many of us are already eager to forget what he's done. Will we do the same for Trump and his child concentration camps in another decade?

George W. Bush celebrating the "success" of the war in Iraq REUTERS

In a just world, we would leave aside any question of beliefs and put George W. Bush on trial for his crimes. But we don't live in a just world. We live in a world where powerful men rarely face real consequences for their crimes.

Luckily, there is a model for responding to this kind of injustice. if there's one lesson we can draw from the #metoo movement (apart from the basic reality of pervasive sexual assault…), it's that we don't have to wait around for a justice system that isn't on our side. The court of public opinion is fickle and dangerous, but sometimes it's the only tool we have to punish people who are otherwise untouchable. George W. Bush will never be tried at the Hague. The least we can do is shun and shame him. The least we can do is remember.

In her response, Ellen admonishes us to "be kind to everyone'' and accuses the world of forgetting that difference is okay. Has she truly forgotten that war crimes are not?

MUSIC

"I Know You All Are Happy Now": Nicki Minaj Quits Music

Nicki Minaj is retiring, and she knows that's going to make some people very happy.

Nicki Minaj has announced her retirement.

She delivered the news in a statement on Twitter on Thursday afternoon, declaring that she's "decided to retire" to have a family.

However, the message implies that there were complex motives behind her decision to abandon her career at the age of 36—motives that might have to do with the number of controversies she's been involved in. Considering Minaj has been a frequent target of call-out culture, she could finally be giving her critics what they've been asking for. She's also been pitted against other female artists, time and time again, and in some ways, her career has begun to feel like a pit of toxicity (despite her fans' perpetual adoration).

Admittedly, her record is far from clean. Minaj has been called out for sl*t-shamey statements like, "I didn't realise how many girls were modern-day prostitutes," as well as homophobic lyrics, statements that perpetuated racist stereotypes, defending convicted abusers like XXXTentacion and 6ix9ine, and marrying Kenneth Perry, a registered sex offender. When she wrote, "I know you all are happy now," she was probably referencing the legions of critics who have picked apart her every move. Now, it seems that cancel culture has worked its magic (or cast its curse, depending on how you see it).

Should we have been so critical of Nicki? Is it a blessing that she's leaving music behind?

Possibly, but she's also one of the most talented rappers in the game, and in the early days of her career she broke ground for female rappers, paving space for a whole new generation of women in hip hop. Ultimately, Minaj's retirement makes it clear that art can no longer be separated from the artist. Being socially aware is now a requirement for anyone looking to keep their place in the spotlight, it seems—at least for anyone who wants to avoid the worst consequences and crushing pressures of being in the public eye in the age of infinite blogs and viral content.

On the other hand, this could be an impulsive decision that she'll double back on in no time. It also could be a publicity stunt. It's not like Minaj has been trending on Twitter lately, after all, and maybe seeing her name up in the lights of the "Trending Topics" list has been her goal all along.

TV

Lil Nas X, Kevin Hart, and the Lost Art of Listening

Pretending that homophobia doesn't exist misses the point.

In an episode of HBO's The Shop: Uninterrupted, Lil Nas X tried to defend his decision not to come out until he became famous—until Kevin Hart interrupted him.

Before Lil Nas could get a word out, Hart attempted to shut down the conversation when he said, "He said he was gay! So what?"

Lil Nas X then tried to explain himself further."I'm growing up to hate this sh*t," he said, trying to explain how difficult his upbringing made it for him to come out, but Hart interrupted him again and said, "Hate what? Why?"

The Shop: UNINTERRUPTED | Lil Nas X on Coming Out (Season 2 Episode 3 Clip) | HBO www.youtube.com

The comments would have been inconsiderate even if Hart had been a longtime defender of gay rights, but the actor has a history of homophobic comments. After he was tapped to host the Oscars last year, several homophobic tweets from his past appeared, and he lost the position.

As of today, it seems like Hart has altered his approach, but his comments to Lil Nas X clearly showed an internalized lack of consideration and care for queer experiences. As The Cut writes, the interview was a classic case wherein a "straight men bravely pretends being gay doesn't matter."

Hart's comments are exemplary of a habit that unites so-called allies and blatant racists: They're textbook examples of gaslighting, a.k.a. attempting to make people think that their own, very real lived experiences are invalid or imagined.

While they exhibit a clear lack of care, in some ways, Hart's comments are also emblematic of the bubble that is liberalism and the media. While it may seem like queerness has become widely accepted, this is far from true around the world and in many parts of America. Homophobia is alive and well, and as wealthy, cisgender, white queer people become more accepted across the nation, that doesn't mean that other demographics are getting pulled into rainbow-colored bliss along with them.

Queerness is rarely isolated from other issues like race and class. On average, black men who come out as queer are more likely to face economic hardship, harassment, and hate than white men, according to a recent report from Human Rights Campaign. Black trans people face even more violence, particularly black trans women, who constitute the majority of trans people killed in homophobic attacks.

This violence is why starry-eyed slogans like "love is love" will never be enough. If the systems that keep homophobia in place remain intact, then homophobia will also remain alive and well, especially if people stop talking about it or fighting for space to be who they are.

In truth, Hart's comments are far less malicious than the majority of what many queer people, particularly queer people of color, face every day. While part of the Internet is getting enraged about this story or the nuances of another Twitter battle, many are still struggling with their sexuality and feeling completely alone.

This is why Lil Nas X's decision to come out is so important. While niche Twitter battles and arty films tend only to reach specific demographics, resulting in feedback loops that simply echo what we already know, Lil Nas X's music has a more universal reach. His decision to come out might resonate with people struggling to come to terms with their sexuality, because—as a superstar beloved for his work, not someone merely defined by or famous because of his sexual orientation—he presents a uniquely powerful image that young black men, particularly those outside of supportive communities, can take heart from.

That said, the conversation around queerness will never be stagnant, and there will never be just one kind of queer person or way to speak about sexuality. Some queer people will prefer to remain in the closet, while others feel it's important to come out publicly (that's queerness 101), just like some transgender people prefer to use "they/them" pronouns while others don't want to or aren't ready to go through the trouble.

Similarly, some people would prefer not to be pigeonholed and asked about their sexuality in every interview—so in that, maybe Hart's comments had a grain of truth to them, though his delivery negated any positive impact they might have had.

Ultimately, if there's a singular rule that people like Kevin Hart, or anyone trying to show support for others, might follow, it's this: learn to listen.

MUSIC

Lil Nas X Won't Leave You Alone in the New "Panini" Video

It's the hitmaker's latest video, and it marks his official metamorphosis from cowboy to robot.

Lil Nas X has officially hacked the system.

The official video for "Panini" just dropped, and it's an ultra-futuristic, Blade Runner-inspired montage of neon lights and dancing holograms.

In the video, the "Old Town Road" singer essentially stalks a girl to the point that she eventually leaps out of an airplane (wearing a parachute) in order to escape his advances—of course, that doesn't work, and he floats after her wearing hover-boots. It's creepy if you think of it as a genuine depiction of stalking, but here's hoping that Lil Nas X meant this as an allegory for the fact that his songs are just impossible to get out of one's head, or that he's an inescapable presence in the media.

This seems even more likely when you remember that Lil Nas X is openly gay, and just yesterday he spoke out about why he waited until he was famous to come out. So it wouldn't make sense for him to manufacture a straight relationship in his music video (right?).

Regardless, the song "Panini" itself is a smooth one minute-and-fifty-five-second post-genre earworm. If it sounds familiar, that's because the chorus sounds borrows from Nirvana's "In Bloom"—which Kurt Cobain's daughter, Francis Bean, just officially approved. Ultimately, it proves once again that Lil Nas X is a master at revamping some of the deepest archetypes in American iconography (cowboys and robots) and putting his own charming, absurd twist on them. He's playing all of us, and yet he means it completely.

Lil Nas X - Panini (Official Video) www.youtube.com