Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart defend ‘Get Hard’ after critics label it racist, homophobic

Kevin Hart, top, and Will Ferrell appear in a scene from
Kevin Hart, top, and Will Ferrell appear in a scene from “Get Hard.” Warner Bros. (AP)

NEW YORK — In the annals of film festival flops – from unexpected boos to red-carpet gaffes – the premiere of the Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart comedy “Get Hard” will go down as a doozy.

After the film premiered last week at the South By Southwest Film Festival, during a Q&A with director Ethan Cohen, an audience member voiced not so much a question as a harsh judgment. “This film seems racist,” he said, using an expletive. Another audience member also asked if the film, about a hedge fund manager (Ferrell) who witlessly hires a law-abiding acquaintance (Hart) to prepare him for maximum security prison after being sentenced for fraud, was perpetuating stereotypes.

That sound you might have heard emanating from Austin was the loud cursing of marketing executives for the film, which opens Friday.

Though film festival Q&As are often filled with questionable observations, these atypically blunt rebukes received outsized attention, drawing headlines from The Los Angeles Times and others. The damage continued with early reviews that also questioned the movie’s handling of homosexuality in various scenes.

Much of the film’s comedy rests on the Ferrell character’s fears of being raped in prison, and among his preparations is an attempt to have oral sex with a gay man in a bathroom stall.

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A critic for The Guardian wrote that future viewers “will be astonished that such a negative portrayal of homosexuality persisted in the mainstream in 2015.” Variety wrote that the film was “undone by some of the ugliest gay-panic humor to befoul a studio release in recent memory.”

After initially seeking to avoid the controversy (Cohen, Ferrell and Hart cancelled interviews with The Associated Press before Ferrell and Hart rescheduled them), the film’s stars and producers are vigorously defending their comedy as not a representation of stereotypes but a satire of them.

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