oscars 2013

Does the Academy Kinda Owe Brett Ratner an Apology Now?

Director Brett Ratner attends the 26th American Cinematheque Award Gala honoring Ben Stiller at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on November 15, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California.
Brett Ratner. Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Remember, if you will, a month that Brett Ratner would probably like to forget: November of 2011, when Ratner lost his big gig as producer of the Oscars after a week of ill-advised chatter. To recap: Ratner was making the rounds to promote his then-new film Tower Heist, and he began his literal offensive with an Attack of the Show appearance where he bragged about “banging” Olivia Munn (“She wasn’t Asian back then,” he added helpfully), responded days later to a question at a Tower Heist Q&A by joking, “Rehearsal is for fags,” and then went on Howard Stern’s show to talk further about starlets he’d bedded, noting that he only deigned to sleep with Lindsay Lohan after making her get tested for STDs. The Academy quickly dismissed Ratner, deeming his bigoted and sexist comments incompatible with the image of class the Oscars has always tried to project … at least until last night, when host Seth MacFarlane made that kind of un-PC humor the cornerstone of his whole act.

What cooked Ratner’s goose, then, now appears to be good for the gander.

So how did MacFarlane get away with that sort of thing while Ratner got fired (a domino topple that also cost the Oscarcast its host that year, Ratner’s friend Eddie Murphy)? Perhaps the Academy simply knew what it was getting into this time: Former AMPAS president Tom Sherak seemed genuinely shocked by Ratner’s boorish behavior back then, but MacFarlane has spent over a decade offending on his shows like Family Guy and American Dad. Jokey racism has become such a big part of MacFarlane’s brand that there was barely a ripple last year when his movie debut, Ted, featured an aggressive Asian stereotype who said things like, “This is my home long time,” while pursuing a duck he intended to eat for dinner.

In any other movie, from any other creative talent, that’s the sort of image that would have caused a furor, but MacFarlane has always managed to escape unscathed under the guise of being an “equal-opportunity offender.” (Incidentally, that catch-all is the sort of nomenclature we really should have retired by now; how exactly does cutting a wide swath with your racist jokes somehow prove that you’re actually not a racist?) Or maybe MacFarlane skates by since he stops just shy of the epithets that really got Ratner in trouble; instead, he’s like the teasing older brother who hovers an index finger millimeters from your face while protesting, “I’m not touching you.” Still, it’s ironic that Ratner’s most notorious quote pooh-poohed the idea of preparation, because while he got canned for incendiary comments that were delivered off the cuff, MacFarlane was allowed to joke about hairy Armenian women and similar-looking black movie stars from well-practiced shtick fed carefully into his TelePrompTer.

Does the Academy Owe Brett Ratner an Apology?