It’s safe to say that the news about a Hugh Hefner biopic, starring Jared Leto, hasn’t gone over well.
Showboating and controversial producer Brett Ratner announced Tuesday that he was finally pulling together his long-planned project about his great friend, the recently deceased Playboy founder. Ratner told the Hollywood Reporter he would direct, and his star would be Academy Award-winning actor Jared Leto.
Ratner’s news about this very dude-centric project lit up the internet but not in ways he probably hoped.
“Jared Leto is playing Hugh Hefner in Brett Ratner’s biopic and I need a shower after just typing those words,” wrote Vivian Lang of the website The Mary Sue.
She and Los Angeles Times writer Libby Hill noted that the project is led by “a perfect storm of problematic people,” starting with Ratner himself.
Ratner hastily resigned from producing the 2012 Oscars after a series of incidents involving homophobic slurs, his controversial statements about his sex life and his racist objectification of Olivia Munn.
“I think Brett Ratner is sleazy no matter who you talk to,” Lang said.
Then there’s Leto, who, yes, won an Academy Award for playing a transgender woman in “Dallas Buyers Club.”
However, people could also view Leto as “a creepy hack who exploited and demeaned the transgender experience” for that role, as Lang said. She and Hill also noted that the actor took Method acting to a whole new level of perversity on the set of “Suicide Squad,” including sending dead animals to his co-stars.
But at the heart of this problematic project is Hefner himself. When he died last week, his celebrity fans and former playmates rushed to tweet his praises, while lengthy obituaries heralded him as one of the 20th century’s greatest champions for the First Amendment and the sexual revolution.
Given Ratner’s statements to the Hollywood Reporter, it’s likely that he wants to continue this celebration of his late friend and long-time hero. He’ll probably also romanticize life at the Playboy mansion, which was always populated by Hefner’s harem of scantily clad aspiring playmates and girlfriends.
“Hef was my friend. He was the coolest. And the hippest,” Ratner said.
He added, “Hugh Hefner started a sexual revolution from behind the walls of his legendary mansion by using the pages of Playboy magazine an his own infamous lifestyle to build a global empire that included publishing, clubs, casinos and television networks.”
But more than anything, Ratner praised Hefner for being an essentially decent, philanthropic person who more than many American titans of industry contributed to the greater good.
“The America into which Hugh Hefner was born was in many ways intolerant and repressive,” he said. “He, among only a handful of men in our history, made it less so,”
That view doesn’t square with others who have spoken up since Hefner’s death. They include writers like Lang and Hill and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, as well as representatives from women’s organizations and other groups.
On the day Hefner died, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation issued a statement from its president Patrick Trueman.
“Hugh Hefner leaves behind a legacy of sexual exploitation and public health harms,” Trueman said. The center works to expose the links between child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking and pornography, which it deems a public health crisis.
He continued, “Hugh Hefner was not a champion of free speech. He was a pioneer in the sexual objectification and use of women.”