Brett Ratner's gay slur: Can the academy really be surprised?
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 -- another knuckleheaded move in itself -- and embarrassed himself further by discussing all sorts of topics you don't get to hear about during an Oscar telecast. These included masturbation, cunnilingus, pubic hair, the size of his testicles, his sexual encounter with Lindsay Lohan and, just to be extra classy, how he sends women to his doctor to make sure they don't have any sexually transmitted diseases “before I go all the way” with them.
If I didn't know academy President Tom Sherak well enough to know that when he's commuting to work he's listening to sports talk, not Stern, I probably would've called him to make sure he hadn't run his car into a divider on the 101.
My point: 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 woman 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.
So what should the academy do? Ratner has profusely apologized and Sherak has equally profusely accepted the apology. Sherak made it clear that Ratner will be on a tight leash, saying: “This won't and can't happen again. It will not happen again.” In other words, don't expect to see any more Ratner interviews any time soon -- the muzzle is on. That puts the academy in something of a bind, since it now has an Oscar producer who won't be allowed to talk anymore and an Oscar host, Eddie Murphy, who gives print interviews about as often as the Cubs go to the World Series.
Mark Harris, the author of “Pictures at a Revolution” and a frequent Oscar pundit, recently 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.”
But sadly, performers 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. I spoke to several old Oscar hands who said that, as long as Ratner stays out of more trouble, he'll keep his Oscar gig. From a pragmatic perspective, the academy would be in a huge bind if it had to replace him this late in the game, less than four months before the late February show.
That doesn't mean that Ratner is in the clear. Whatever goodwill he might have had for assuming the thankless job of producing the Oscars is now long gone. If things go wrong on Oscar night, the press customarily blames the host. This time, thanks to his oafishness, it will be Ratner who gets the blame.
When Herman Cain was first embroiled in his sexual harassment scandal, he described it as a media witch hunt, saying, “I told you this bull's-eye on my back has gotten bigger.” Well, Herman, meet Brett. When it comes to having a huge target on your back, you've got company.
-- Patrick Goldstein
Photo: Brian Grazer, left, with Brett Ratner at the premiere of "J. Edgar" at the AFI Fest 2011.
Credit: Matt Sayles / Associated Press