Following the death of Hugh Hefner, it seems natural that someone would order up a Hef biopic, and indeed, someone has. Hollywood fratboy Brett Ratner is going to produce and direct a biopic of Hef, which will star Jared Leto. How do you think Leto will get into character? What Method treats will his castmates live in terror of receiving? What stories of debauchery and objectification will we be subjected to as Leto “entertains” us with his Method acting? Is it too much to hope he just wears pajamas for a year and leaves it at that? And who thinks BRETT RATNER is capable of delivering a nuanced portrait of a man who both liberated publishing, advocated for reproductive rights, and entrapped women in a tightly controlled, narrowly performed definition of femininity and beauty that has tortured us into unnatural body shapes and unrealistic expectations of sex and pleasure?
In case you think this is a new, tribute-inspired project—it’s not. A Hef biopic has been bouncing around town for years, ricocheting between studios, producers, and stars (RDJ was once attached). Hugh Hefner is one of the most famous, recognizable men in America. Why has it been so hard to get a biopic off the ground? Movies are hard to make, but also, it’s a BAD IDEA. Hugh Hefner was not entirely a bad person, but he wasn’t a paragon of First Amendment virtue, either (see also: browbeating journalists). And it’s an oversimplification to say we have a divisive relationship with Playboy. For generations of boys—and probably some girls, though that certainly wasn’t Hef’s intention—it was their introduction to pants-feelings, but it’s arguably done more to harm sexual politics than help.
So again I ask, does anyone think Brett Ratner is the right person to bring Hef to the screen? Honestly, Jared Leto playing Hef is an afterthought, mostly just good for jokes about his Method ways. Ratner is the real point of concern. To tell Hefner’s life story is to tell the story of a sexual revolution aimed solely at straight white men. It’s the story of a brilliant publisher who basically invented the concept of “leaking nudes” when he published nude photos of Marilyn Monroe without her knowledge or permission (and then had the gall to think being buried next to her is romantic). It’s the presentation of an aspirational lifestyle based on dominating and controlling women, and performative masculinity that rewards behavior we consider toxic today. If a Hef biopic must be made, I’d prefer it to come from a female filmmaker, or an LGBTQ filmmaker, or maybe someone who didn’t grow up in America with Playboy, and therefore doesn’t see it with romantic nostalgia. Or really, anyone who isn’t exactly the kind of person Hef considered his audience.