Actor Jonah Hill was videotaped using an anti-gay slur over the weekend. Rather than issuing the typical Hollywood non-apology, he has actually given a sincere and mindful response.
Hill, who has starred in films like the recent 22 Jump Street, is in fact a known gay rights supporter, having previously advocated for gay rights in a number of interviews and having worked with the Human Rights Campaign. Yet, when he was out walking through the Larchmont area of L.A. over the weekend, and was hounded by a couple of papparazi, a visibly distressed Hill was caught using the anti-gay slur “faggot” against one of the reporters.
Of course, the moment was captured on video and within hours TMZ had published it. Hill’s PR people largely refused to offer a statement on the matter. Instead, Hill went on the Howard Stern Radio Show on Tuesday to make a public statement and apology over the incident. In the apology, Hill makes no attempt to minimize the slur, nor does he offer excuses. In fact, he goes out of his way to say there is no excuse.
His apology is as follows (with mild swearing):
“I’m upset, because, from the day I was born, and publicly, I’ve been a gay rights activist. [To] give it some context, not excusing what I said in any way, this person had been following me around all day, had been saying hurtful things about my family, really hurtful thing[s] about me personally, and I played into exactly what he wanted and lost my cool. And in that moment, I said a disgusting word, that does not at all reflect how I feel about any group of people.
“I’m not at all defending my choice of words but I am happy to be the poster boy for thinking about what you say, and how those words even though you don’t intend them, they are rooted in hate, and that’s bullshit and I shouldn’t have said that.”
“What I said in that moment was disgusting and a hurtful term I should have either said nothing or f—you, instead I use a word I don’t use in my personal life, it’s not part of my vernacular. I’m happy to take the heat for using this disgusting word but it would break my heart for anyone to think I would be against anyone for their sexuality.”
To be clear, this doesn’t make what Hill said better. No matter the apparent and heavy provocation, these kinds of slurs are always unacceptable and, research has shown, they can do real damage when young people hear those words as they reinforce societal disapproval. We also might pick at Hill’s statement that such slurs aren’t in his vernacular and ask, if that is true, why was it the go-to response in this situation?
Nevertheless, Hill’s apology seems sincere and gives us a benchmark for what actual apologies should look like, as opposed to the stock “I’m sorry if people were offended by…” that has become so prevalent whenever a Hollywood or media star wishes to gloss over their own failings and move on.
It also contrasts starkly against drag star RuPaul’s complete refusal to apologize or stop using anti-trans slurs.
RuPaul has consistently said that as he identifies with those slurs (in this case, “tranny”) and because he contends the word used to mean only a male drag performer, he has an entitlement to using that language and would encourage others to do so as well — this despite the fact that a number of trans people (though, admittedly, not all) have told him they find it offensive and spelled out that it is because it feeds into misgendering trans people as a whole that they want him to stop using the word, something that would cost him nothing at all.
Ultimately though, people shouldn’t have to apologize for these kinds of slurs because they shouldn’t be using them in the first place. Yet, if the unfortunate does happen, Jonah Hill has at least shown how to give a meaningful statement that actually recognizes that words have an impact beyond what we might have intended or that specific situation in which they were uttered.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.