Director Brett Ratner resigned Tuesday as producer of the Oscar telecast after coming under fire for making an anti-gay slur, leaving the motion picture academy scrambling to cast a new team to helm the February award show.
Ratner, director of popcorn films such as "Rush Hour" and the newly released "Tower Heist," was an unconventional choice for the job and was touted as someone who could shake up the program and bring more viewers and pizazz to the affair. Although the show's ratings have flagged recently, the Oscars remain one of the most-viewed broadcasts of the year, often second only to the Super Bowl.
It was unclear whether Ratner's handpicked host for the Feb. 26 broadcast, Eddie Murphy, would also bow out.
The controversy erupted after a Q&A session last weekend following a screening of "Tower Heist" during which Ratner said, "rehearsal is for fags." He then went on Howard Stern's Sirius XM radio show and talked explicitly about his sex life.
Ratner issued a public apology Monday and academy President Tom Sherak seemed to accept it, but the drumbeat of criticism continued, culminating in Ratner's resignation.
In a letter addressed to "the Entertainment Industry," Ratner, 42, said: "Over the last few days, I've gotten a well-deserved earful from many of the people I admire most in this industry expressing their outrage and disappointment over the hurtful and stupid things I said in a number of recent media appearances. To them, and to everyone I've hurt and offended, I'd like to apologize publicly and unreservedly."
The letter continued: "As difficult as the last few days have been for me, they cannot compare to the experience of any young man or woman who has been the target of offensive slurs or derogatory comments.... So many artists and craftspeople in our business are members of the LGBT community, and it pains me deeply that I may have hurt them. I should have known this all along, but at least I know it now: words do matter. Having love in your heart doesn't count for much if what comes out of your mouth is ugly and bigoted. With this in mind, and to all those who understandably feel that apologies are not enough, please know that I will be taking real action over the coming weeks and months in an effort to do everything I can both professionally and personally to help stamp out the kind of thoughtless bigotry I've so foolishly perpetuated."
In accepting the resignation, Sherak said Tuesday afternoon: "He did the right thing for the academy and for himself. Words have meaning, and they have consequences. Brett is a good person, but his comments were unacceptable. We all hope this will be an opportunity to raise awareness about the harm that is caused by reckless and insensitive remarks, regardless of the intent."
Ratner and Murphy did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Ratner was to co-produce the event with Don Mischer, a veteran of award show broadcasts, and it was expected that Mischer would remain with the program.
GLAAD, a gay, bisexual and transgender media advocacy and anti-defamation organization, issued a statement saying it was working with Ratner to "convene public discussions featuring leaders in the entertainment industry about promoting fair and accurate inclusions of" gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The group said the discussions would address "anti-LGBT jokes and slurs in films and on television today as well as their trickle-down effect into popular culture," with the first event to take place in coming weeks with additional discussions to take place over the next three years.
"When we sat down with Brett today, he seemed very sincere in his desire to use this experience as a way to begin speaking out against anti-gay language in popular culture," said Herndon Graddick, senior director of programs and communications at GLAAD. "We believe his resignation is just the first step and will be announcing a series of concrete actions with Brett in coming days and weeks."
When he was selected in August for the producing job, Sherak called Ratner "unbelievably creative" and said he knows how to "take risks that are both interesting and inspiring." Dawn Hudson, who became chief executive of the academy this summer, added then that "Brett has a really smart and fresh take for the show."
At the time, Mischer said "Brett's a risk-taker and loves a challenge. Ideas just flow from him. He's going to make it fun."
Last February, Mischer's partner on the show was producer Bruce Cohen, who took home a best picture Oscar for "American Beauty" and was nominated for "Milk." Cohen and Mischer sought to put a more youthful face on the program, tapping Anne Hathaway and James Franco as hosts, but the telecast was largely panned by critics and drew just 37.6 million viewers, down 10% from 2010, according to the Nielsen Co. Still, 2011 had a higher viewership than in 2008 and 2009.
Of Ratner's resignation, veteran film producer and academy member Mark Canton said: "We live in a time when you have to be really careful about what you say, and say it in a way that's appropriate when you take the responsibility of a public job. On the other hand, it's a very fine line because, let's put it this way — most people … mean well. They just have to be smart about how they say things."
Another academy member, who asked not to be named because the person was not authorized to speak on behalf of the academy, said it wasn't just Ratner's anti-gay slur that was a problem. "When you hire Brett Ratner don't expect him to act like a model citizen," the member said. "To me it's more offensive that he doesn't rehearse. That would have been the real problem come Feb. 26."
Los Angeles Times staff writer Steve Zeitchik contributed to this report.