LOS ANGELES — If the cloistered elders at the motion picture academy were shocked, surprised, appalled or dismayed to discover that Brett Ratner said that “rehearsal is for fags” in a Q&A session after a screening of his new film, “Tower Heist,” well, it just goes to show how little due diligence they did before they hired Ratner to produce next year’s Oscars.
Ratner’s remark, made in response to a question about his creative process, was actually, in terms of self-inflicted wounds, a two-for-one deal. Ratner not only embarrassed the academy by insulting legions of gay people (who are perhaps the Oscars’ last remaining loyal demographic), but he also made himself look like even more of an artistic featherweight by making it clear that he views the hard work and preparation that most filmmakers put into their craft — i.e. rehearsal time — as being for chumps, not fast-talking smoothies like himself.
Of course, this is standard operating procedure for Ratner. The same day he apologized, he went on Howard Stern’s Sirius XM show — a knuckleheaded move in itself — and embarrassed himself further by discussing all sorts of topics you don’t hear during an Oscar telecast.
Now the academy has dumped Ratner and lost host Eddie Murphy — selected by Ratner (customarily, the producer picks the host). They’ll have to scramble to get a new team in place for the late February ceremony. Co-producer Don Mischer is expected to stay on board, but finding a high-profile producer to step into the mess Ratner made won’t be easy.
The question is, how did the academy get into this pickle in the first place?
It’s hardly a news flash that Ratner is a crass hustler who’s spent his entire career in a Sammy Glick-like rush to get ahead, often behaving with all of the grace and elan of a character out of “Entourage.” Ratner is loyal to his friends and a big contributor to charity, but he often acts like an over-entitled bar-mitzvah boy, running amok at his afterparty.
If the academy had done any homework at all, it would’ve learned that when a female reporter from the Jewish Journal interviewed Ratner for a cover story a few years ago, he managed to make a fool out of himself by repeatedly hitting on her, something she found so immature that she put it right in the lead of the story.
Of course, maybe the academy was just gambling that if there was an incident, Ratner would apologize and it would blow over, as so many such things sadly do.
It was all of five months ago that “30 Rock” costar Tracy Morgan, doing a stand-up routine in Nashville, made a series of inflammatory remarks about gay people, saying that if his son were gay, he would “pull out a knife and stab” him. Like Ratner, Morgan apologized. And like Sherak, who said Ratner has “many friends” in the gay and lesbian community, Tina Fey said that the Tracy Morgan she knew “is not a hateful man and would never hurt another person.”
And that was that. No suspension. No firing. No more fuss. We’ve all gone back to laughing at Morgan’s less-scandalous “30 Rock” antics.
Something similar might have occurred after academy president Tom Sherak publicly accepted Ratner’s apology on Monday, saying: “This won’t and can’t happen again. It will not happen again.” Surely he was hoping that was the end of that. But this time, the chorus of disapproval only mounted.
Mark Harris, the author of “Pictures at a Revolution” and a frequent Oscar pundit, posted a scathing indictment of Ratner on the website Grantland, mocking his apology and saying: “There’s not really a long, nuanced debate to be had about this. If he had used an equivalent racial or religious slur, the discussion would go something like, ‘You’re fired.’ Apology or not.
“The same rule applies here. You don’t get a mulligan on homophobia.”
A number of academy mainstays weren’t so happy either. They were willing to stomach Ratner when it looked like he’d bring a breath of fresh air to what has been an increasingly cobwebby awards show. But when it looked like he might soil the Oscar brand, he had little internal support. My sources say that it was Ratner’s idea to fall on his sword and resign on Tuesday. Maybe he shrewdly sensed that the steady drip-drip of the scandal would eventually do him in anyway.
Is there a moral here? Perhaps only a minor one. The academy took a gamble and got burned. As for Ratner, it should be some consolation that Hollywood is, at its heart, an emotion-driven business. It is quick to indulge in moral indignation, but almost as quick to offer people a chance to redeem themselves. Just ask Mel Gibson, who’s hard at work on his Hanukkah movie.
Ratner may be in eclipse today. But in a world where, as Sinatra so aptly put it, you can be riding high in April, shot down in May, don’t be surprised how little time it will take for him to stage a comeback.