Nispel resurfaced in industry buzz last month with an ad that appeared in the May 12 issue of Shoot magazine. Under a picture of an apparently African woman's aged, pendulous mammaries, copy reads, "In South Africa, this is what SAG means. To service clients, Marcus Nispel is setting up a temporary RSA office in South Africa, where production is cost-effective and they've never heard of SAG."
The ad caused an uproar with actors unions SAG and AFTRA, which went on to picket RSA/USA offices in Los Angeles and New York with support from the NAACP, the AFL-CIO and Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Ridley and Tony Scott, the company's owners, then issued an apology, denying their involvement and acknowledging the ad's offensiveness to "people of color, women, or anyone else." Soon afterwards, on May 23, RSA announced that it had ended its business ties to Nispel, his manager Tim Case and executive producer Linda Ross.
Before RSA dropped him like a hot potato, Nispel told Creativity the ad was a response to the continuing SAG strike, which revolves around the payment terms for actors in advertising. "It was just to show a reaction, because I felt everybody was just sitting there," he explains. "I don't object to the strike. The actors can decide to work or not to work. In the meantime, I'm not going to stop shooting. I'll go where I need to go." Nispel added that he doesn't play favorites with talent, and that he has often found fine acting performances outside union confines. "I just did my third cast with non-union talent," he says. "I hate to say it, but I can't tell the difference. It's not like you're dealing with Demi Moore or Bruce Willis. It's not Shakespeare in the Park. It's `I can't believe it's not butter.' "
The shriveled bosom managed to offend a wide industry audience. "In regards to our affirmative action and diversity efforts, the ad demonstrates that things have not changed," says Anne-Marie Johnson, who heads up the equal employment opportunity committee for SAG. Cathy St. Jean, president of Advertising Women of New York (AWNY), which hands out annual Good, Bad and Ugly awards, says the advertisment unofficially won its first Ugly of the year.
Some admakers saw the ad as gratuitously inflammatory, especially for a_director of Nispel's prominence. Ken Yagoda, director of broadcast production at Y&R/New York, found the ad rude, insensitive and juvenile. "It's the kind of thing that is so tasteless, I could not fathom what he was thinking," says Yagoda. Bob Nelson, head of broadcast at Lowe Lintas, takes the sentiment further. "It was an ill-advised thing to do," he believes. "RSA is not just in advertising but in features. The same actors are not on strike against features, and I was surprised."
Some initial supporters of the ad apparently got cold feet after SAG and its allies began to protest. Alex Blum, executive producer at Santa Monica-based production company Headquarters, told Creativity before the brouhaha, "It's not something I would have done, but it's kind of funny and I appreciate the message Nispel is sending to SAG." But on the day of the union uproar, his representative called Creativity to retract the comment. Others found the ad's photo just plain confusing. Donna Goodman, director of sales at Charlex, at first didn't recognize the picture as a woman's chest. "I thought it was an elephant's butt," she explains with a chuckle.
Exactly, says Nispel. Prior to his release from RSA, the director defended the ad, saying, "If you make an analogy, it makes no difference if I show the saggy ass of a boar or the saggy tits of a female black African or the saggy ass of an elephant. It makes no difference because it's talking about SAG. Everything else is people's own associations and hangups." Nispel claims that "a lot of SAG actors are my friends. I'm married to one. I don't want to offend them." He adds that his wife is African American. SAG's Johnson, however, rejects Nispel's argument. "My best friend is black? That whole scenario doesn't work in this day and age," she scoffs.
Nispel says the ad was executed by Case, who now waxes apologetic. "I look at it now and I'm embarrassed that I didn't see that it was too insulting to certain people," Case admits. "I take responsibility for it. I should have stopped it from being run. It was a fucking stupid, stupid thing to do."
In a faxed memo from his publicist on June 2, Nispel seems to have changed his tune. "The ad . . . was not written by me, nor did I agree with what it said," the statement reads. "I regret that I did not make a greater effort to stop the ad and deeply apologize to all those offended by it."
Wherever Nispel stands, the saggy boobs managed to weigh him down only temporarily. David Zander, president of Morton Jankel Zander, confirmed that he signed the director to his production company on May 30.