Brett Ratner: More Must Be Done to Fight Bigotry, Prejudice and Anti-Semitism
In accepting awards from the ADL, the 'Rush Hour' producer-director and producer Ben Silverman both call on the entertainment industry to use their power as storytellers to battle terrorism and hate.
Even before it was time to accept the ADL Entertainment Industry Award on Monday night at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, producer-director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, Hercules) bounded onto the stage, interrupting emcee Justin Baldoni, to tell the crowd that the $1 million being raised was not enough.
"I ran up here," said Ratner, "because I realized I'm a very competitive individual and when I asked how much money was raised when Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Mark Burnett were honorees, they said all three of them beat you and Ben Silverman (the evenings other honoree). I'm really friggin' pissed off."
Ratner thanked the crowd for their generosity in attending but then exhorted them to donate even more to support an organization that fights bigotry, prejudice and anti-Semitism, to make it an even bigger evening for the Anti-Defamation League.
"Bigots spread their messages online 24 hours a day," said Ratner. "They tweet, they post it, they YouTube; but if hate is learned it can be unlearned. … The ADL strives to combat the festering of hate. Please do everything you can."
Ratner then returned to his seat until it was actually time for him to accept the award.
In introducing Silverman, who is executive producer of Jane the Virgin on The CW, Baldoni (one of the stars of that show) joked that his boss has promised to match any donation up to $7.50.
Jaime Camil, another Jane the Virgin star, then did the actual introduction of Silverman, who is chairman of Electus and former co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, with other credits including Ugly Betty, The Office and Biggest Loser.
"Ben honors and respects diversity," said Camil. "His leadership in bringing multicultural formats to the entertainment industry is unquestionable. His emphasis on supporting culturally diverse individuals and projects speaks about the respect and consideration he has for all backgrounds and ideologies."
Silverman said when he heard recently about a terrorist incident in which the group ISIS seized an Egyptian naval ship, "I thought about the responsibility we have to take as storytellers and thought leaders because they're taking our words, they're taking our tools and they're throwing them in our face."
"Brett and I recognize the power of our words," added Silverman, "and the power of what we do and the responsibility as parents and the gifts we have been given to tell our stories, … we need to be even more conscious. This is a big organization against hate, and I hate hate and I love love, but I also know we have the power."
Ratner was then introduced by Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He recalled that Ratner, now 46, became the youngest member of his organization's board of trustees in 2008, at age 39.
"Many people Brett's age grew up with the feeling that fighting anti-Semitism was something the older generation did," said Hier, "but Brett, you are different."
Ratner began his acceptance by singing a Yiddish song taught to him as a child by his great-grandmother when she lived with him and his mother in a Miami Beach apartment. He said that was where he first dreamed of directing movies and learned what it meant to share stories.
"At night my grandparents," said Ratner, "and my great-grandmother and my mother would sit around the table telling stories. This is how I developed my passion for storytelling and for Judaism. I had no idea at the time how truly intertwined those two passions would become."
Ratner said he suffered from ADD as a child and no public school would take him. He instead went to a Jewish school, and then, after being kicked out for kissing a girl (a violation of the conservative group's rules), he moved to Israel where he attended high school while his mother lived on a nearby kibbutz.
"It was in Israel," said Ratner, "where I really began to feel the national pride of being Jewish and being part of a people. It wasn't until I moved to Los Angeles that my two passions came together."
He said when he started making money 15 years ago, he bought a house and invited his grandparents to come live with him. His grandmother was at the dinner but his grandfather has since passed away. With tears in his eyes, Ratner dedicated his award to his grandfather.
"Now my career has taken off," said Ratner. "I'm directing big Hollywood movies and all I want to do is bring my love of movies and the Jewish people together in a big Nazi ass-kicking movie."
He hasn't been able to get that movie off the ground yet, but said he would continue trying.
Ratner thanked his business partner James Packer, who was in the audience, for helping make his dream come true of being able to finance his own movies. In 2012, they formed Ratpac, a company that with Dune Capital and others has invested in Warner Bros. movies including Gravity, American Sniper and The Lego Movie.
"James Packer is not Jewish," said Ratner, "though he actually recently became an Israeli citizen and happens to live next door to [Israeli prime minister] Benjamin Netanyahu [in Tel Aviv]. James, you are now the first non-Jewish Zionist in history."
Packer, a billionaire Australian, divides his time between his home country, the U.S., Asia and Israel.
Ratner said he was most proud of having produced the documentary Night Will Fall last year, which uses footage shot by the British, and director Alfred Hitchcock, in 1945, right after World War II, and documents the tragic story of the Nazi death camps. It currently airs on HBO.
"The answer to anti-Semitism, bigotry and discrimination," added Ratner, "is not in the heavens. It's right here in this room. It's the work of the ADL and all of us who support it."