Thursday, November 10, 2011

What Started Out As A Joke...

...has turned into a public relations disaster if not an outright scandal.  Here are the facts.

Director Brett Ratner was hired to produce the upcoming Academy Awards.  Shortly afterward, Eddie Murphy agreed to host the awards.  Murphy worked with Ratner in the current film Tower Heist.  While promoting the film, Ratner was asked a question about rehearsing his cast.  He responded, "rehearsing's for fags".  He then followed up this by going on the Howard Stern radio show, where he discussed his sex life in graphic detail.  The ensuing storm of protests over both incidents brought about Ratner's resignation from his producing duties.  The next day, Murphy resigned as host of the Academy Awards.

Here now are my private views expressed publicly.

The speed to which all this happened is remarkable: less than a week between Ratner's tactless comments and Murphy's departure. It isn't surprising: today, apologies for ridiculous comments are now so sub par few people believe them.  Further, more people are quick to dump the source of their trouble (just ask Joe Paterno).  However, there are a few things I just don't understand.

First, why was Ratner hired in the first place?  Looking at his career, this isn't a man my fellow critics love.  The Rush Hour films aren't exactly on anyone's Top Ten List, and X3: The Last Stand was a clear abomination.  Whatever the reason as to why Ratner was hired are lost to me.   Be that as  it may, his comments, in particular using a derogatory term for homosexuals, shows Mr. Ratner to be remarkably juvenile (in the same way someone saying, 'that's so gay', means something is pathetic).  Whether this is how he genuinely sees the world or just a byproduct of our times I cannot say.  However, if he does not have the sense to censor himself with the press, he shows a remarkable lack of foresight, which is something that a good producer should have.

Should he have been fired?  I'm of the mind he should never have been hired.  I think he may have survived the 'fags' thing (although he would have already have damaged the Oscar brand), but he only compounded things with his Stern interview.  Once he said that foolish and insensitive thing, he should have kept his mouth shut.  An apology I think would have been enough.  By going on Stern, by continuing to talk about sex, he only made himself look even more foolish.  Nothing would have saved him.  Back to my original question: should he have been fired?  If I were on the Academy board, I would have said no the first time, but the second time, yes, he should have been fired.  People will always say foolish things (unfortunately, they will live forever thanks to Youtube and such). 

As for Murphy, he is perfectly free to leave if he chose to, but while loyalty is to be admired, I think he should have stayed.  The Oscar hosts post-Billy Crystal have been weak (I'm one of the few who wasn't overwhelmed with Jon Stewart, and the less we say about Franco and Hathaway, the better--although Steve Martin was Crystal's near-equal).  I would have hoped Murphy would have stayed, but let's face it: this isn't the first time he's left the Oscars early. 

In short, the Academy Awards have a new producer: Brian Grazer, and as of yet no host.  Will this signal a problem?  No, the Oscars will go on.  Will it damage the actual ceremony?  If Snow White couldn't kill the Academy Awards, nothing will.  On the whole, Brett Ratner was right to go--however it went down.  Murphy should have stayed on (he still is a remarkable talent).  In this fiasco, what we saw was the staid Academy trying for something new and hip, only to have it blow up  in their face because these new and hip guys are shockingly out-of-touch with the general public.  "Fag" is not a compliment, and why Ratner thought it would be a good way of expressing what he thought of rehearsals boggles the imagination. 

Yes, the Academy did the right thing (at last) in seeing Ratner leave by the back door.  It's unfortunate that they did not get Murphy to stay on.  On the whole, I hope that this entire series of events will only be a footnote to a successful Oscar broadcast.  People remember The Silence of the Lambs winning Best Picture, not necessarily that there were protests outside over the film's perceived homophobia.  Perhaps this sorry story will be mentioned after the final award is presented, but I hope that the event itself be far better than last year.

In conclusion: Ratner had to go, Murphy did not.  Murphy may not get another shot at this, but I hope for the best as we slog our way into the Oscar season.

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