It’s safe to say the past couple of days have not been the movie industry’s finest hour. Over the course of 24 tumultuous hours, the producer chosen for next year’s Oscar telecast, Brett Ratner, resigned amid a firestorm of controversy; his handpicked host, Eddie Murphy, dropped out; and a new producer, Brian Grazer, was brought in to try to quickly clean up the mess.
Given that we’re talking about Hollywood’s most important and exalted event here, the one that is supposed to represent cinema’s highest values and achievements, and it all went kablooey over a few crazy days, there is sure to be some fallout. But who will be most adversely affected by this week’s fiasco going forward? Brett Ratner? Eddie Murphy? The Academy itself? Let’s take them one by one.
Ratner: You’d imagine that Ratner would pay a steep career price for face-planting in such a spectacular fashion, bowing out as Oscar producer amid furor over his comment that “rehearsal is for fags” as well as crude, borderline-misogynistic remarks about his sex life he made on The Howard Stern Show. And, to be sure, Ratner’s reputation has taken a major hit. Then again, there was already a certain, shall we say, roguish frat-boy quality (to put it kindly) baked into that reputation within the industry. This is not Ingmar Bergman we’re talking about — this is the guy who directed, among other things, the Rush Hour movies, X-Men: The Last Stand, and a Guitar Hero commercial featuring Playboy Playmates. Let’s just say that the fact that he was talking to Howard Stern about the size of his testicles and his talent for oral sex didn’t come as a huge shock to anyone who knew him in the business.
Rightly or wrongly, given his swift apology, and the fact that he has vowed to partner with GLAAD to work against homophobia, the long-term impact on Ratner’s career from this episode may actually prove minimal. “I think his remarks were regrettable,” says one Hollywood executive who’s an Academy member. “But his apology was sincere. And when you go on Howard Stern, what else are you expected to talk about? Give me a break! That is exactly what Stern does, and variations of a theme on that conversation have been had with countless stars and filmmakers, so let’s be a little honest here.”
One producer who has worked with Ratner argues the filmmaker shouldn’t have been forced to resign in the first place: “He doesn’t have an anti-gay bone in his body — in fact, quite the opposite. He should have been allowed to produce the Oscar telecast. If we started firing directors, actors, producers, and writers for making an insensitive mistake, then only Mother Teresa could have written, produced, and acted for the screen!”
If anything is likely to harm Ratner’s career in bottom-line-minded Hollywood, says another top film producer, it’ll be the underwhelming reviews and squandered-potential box office performance of Ratner’s latest movie, the Eddie Murphy-Ben Stiller action-comedy Tower Heist: “That movie was such a disappointment. It had no style to it. It’ll do okay, but it was so down the middle.”
Murphy: When Murphy was announced as the host for next year’s Oscars, a lot of people both within and outside Hollywood saw the move as a chance for the man who was once far and away the biggest comedy star on the planet to reclaim his past glory. Throw in the generally positive reception to his return to edgier material in Tower Heist and excitement over his hints about possibly returning to stand-up and hosting Saturday Night Live, and Murphy’s career seemed to be attaining a heat it hadn’t had in some time.
When he stepped down as Oscar host, some of that heat may have dissipated. But one veteran executive says Murphy won’t be dinged by Hollywood for the decision (“He was being loyal to Brett — period”), nor is he likely to suffer any significant consequences for his career going forward: “Eddie has worked pretty regularly for years, so I see no impact. He was terrific in Tower Heist, but he’s not hungry like he was in his youth. A lost opportunity for him to rekindle those glory days? I just don’t think that holds water because the Oscars are still a network show, so it was not like we were going to get Eddie unleashed.”
The Academy: There’s no escaping the fact that the Oscars have become a frequent punching bag in recent years, and last year’s show, hosted by Anne Hathaway and James Franco, came in for especially brutal reviews. In hiring Ratner and Murphy, the Academy was clearly looking to shake things up — and making yet another bid in its perennial attempt to lure the younger viewers it needs to survive as a vital and relevant cultural institution. But within the industry, the choice of Ratner in particular was never exactly seen as a slam-dunk. “Some people I know in the Academy, major people, were completely flipped out from the moment he was appointed — like, ‘What the f— is this?'” says a high-profile movie producer. “Last year’s show was terrible, so this year they were sort of like, ‘We’re going to go in a completely other direction — we’re going to go toward vulgarity.'”
Now, with Grazer at the helm and the familiar Billy Crystal on board to host the telecast, the Academy is trying to steer the ship back to safe waters — and, even with this setback, Academy president Tom Sherak insisted in an interview with Deadline today that the Oscars are “weeks ahead of schedule.” Still, there’s no question this has been a serious poke in the eye for Sherak and newly appointed Academy chief executive Dawn Hudson. With the Oscars still four months away, all of this kerfuffle may be largely forgotten by the time the first envelope is opened. But the pressure on the Academy to deliver a great Oscars telecast has never been more intense than it is right now.