Yesterday, I wrote about the fact that Hollywood lacks standards for what acts make someone unemployable. But part of the problem is also that while we have a sense of what behavior we don’t want to see treated as if it’s acceptable, there isn’t a clear standard for what constitutes making amends, not just to the people who were directly harmed by celebrities’ actions or remarks, but to the rest of us who have to deal with those people as public figures.
The way director Brett Ratner’s behaved in the wake of his comments last fall that “rehearsal is for fags,” which lost him a chance to run the Academy Awards, is an instructive example of what celebrity redemption might look like. At the time, he promised 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.” And he’s lived up to that promise, committing to produce a new ad campaign for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. It’s an experience that both sounds like it’s been educational for Ratner, and that’s letting an organization that represents the people he offended derive a substantive benefit.
Now, there will always be people who judge someone who’s in the process of redemption. But I think this offers a pretty reasonable standard for deciding if someone should be eligible not just to work, but for career-enhancing slots at an event like the Grammys or a production deal at FX that’s going to require a lot of promotional heavy lifting. Has the person who broke the law or committed the sin against decency educated themselves? And have they made a substantive contribution—whether it’s a donation of their services or raising money for a cause—to make public recompense and reinforce the idea that what they did was wrong, not just for them, but for anyone? If Chris Brown or Charlie Sheen had committed to raising a very serious amount of money for domestic violence charities and followed through on the work, I’d be much more inclined to consider forgiving them. It would be an acknowledgement that they understood that their behavior was wrong, and connected to larger issues in society, and that they were committed to remedying them both.