Friday, August 8, 2008

The "R" word in "Tropic Thunder"

The leadership of The Arc, a group of communities for those with intellectual disabilities will be pre-screening the upcoming Dreamworks Comedy "Tropic Thunder". In the film about spoiled actors filming a "Rambo" like film on location, Ben Stiller plays an actor who is rehearsing a role as a retarded man in a film, "Simple Jack" whose tag line is, "Once upon a time. . there was a retard".
Ben Stiller should know better. Stiller who wrote the screenplay and directed the film, should know better than to base a film gag on mocking the disabled. I am deeply disappointed that Hollywood, who bends over backward to be politically correct, could callously offend so many. Ben, if you are so hard up for comedy, leave the screenwriting to those who can do funny without hurting anyone.
Read Patricia Bauer's entire column here.

UPDATE: The viral website of Tropic Thunder has been temporarily shut down pending a meeting between film officials and advocates for the mentally disabled. I will keep you posted about whether the film is changed to be less offensive.
BAD NEWS From The Arc
A small number of disability advocates was able to screen the film on Friday, August 8. Their assessment of the film was that it was far worse than anything they could have anticipated. According to David Tolleson, the Executive Director of the National Down Syndrome Congress who attended the screening, "it provides real ammunition for cruelty" especially for the film's target audience of adolescent males. "Not only is the Simple Jack character highly central to the film's plot, it is portrayed in the most demeaning way," according to Tolleson. Watch the controversial scenes here (viewer discretion nudity, profanity, tasteless humor, blood and gore, racial religious and ethnic slurs. . did I miss anything?) Stiller sure didn't!
In perhaps the single most offensive scene in the film, Matthew McConaughey, who plays a Hollywood agent, speaks to the film's main character who wants to adopt a child. "Well, at least you still have a choice. I'm stuck with mine," states McConaughey while pointing to a photograph of his teenage son who appears to have an intellectual disability.
There has been mounting outrage from the disability community as the film's content is gradually becoming known.For excellent coverage of the issue, see Patricia Bauer's Column and related posts. Hundreds of comments have been posted on the blog expressing outrage about the movie. Representatives of a number of national disability organizations, including The Arc's Executive Director Peter V. Berns, met with DreamWorks and Paramount studio executives in Los Angeles, California on Wednesday, August 6. The purpose of the meeting was to express concerns, request a viewing of the film, and discuss possible solutions.
Take Action
Depending on negotiations with the studio executives over the weekend, The Arc and its coalition partners may be calling on its membership to take appropriate action. Such action includes a protest at the premier in Los Angeles on August 11 and/or national boycott when the film is released on August 13.
Stay tuned......
To prove that I don't want an absolute ban the portrayal of the mentally disabled in film, I enjoyed the irreverent comedy, "The Ringer", after an enthusiastic endorsement from the National Down Syndrome Society. Patricia Bauer comments on in "The Ringer" this New York Times article.
The difference between this film and "Tropic Thunder" is that the characters in "The Ringer" are seen as dignified human beings not pathetic stereotypes, they poke fun at themselves and the foolish stereotypes about the disabled, so you find yourself laughing with them, not at them.

Gail Williamson head of the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles, talked the producers of "The Ringer" into casting actors such as the hysterical Ed Barbarell who has Down syndrome in the film which was about the Special Olympics. The producers were actually going to fake DS with masks, because they thought there were no actors with DS up to the parts. They must have forgotten the hit TV series of the 1990's "Life Goes On" which was written around Chris Burke, an actor with Down sydndrome.
Chris Burke, and Ed Barbarell are excellent role models for individuals with intellectual challenges, and they both have a great sense of humor.
UPDATE: The protests held at today's opening of the film garned a lot of media attention. Here is my post at Causa Nostrae Laetitiae on who's paying attention, and how to join the protest.


Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

How horrible! Not a good career move for Ben. This will come back to haunt him.

Duffy said...

Can I cast a dissenting vote? I think the point of using the word was to show that Hollywood exploits the disabled to make a buck and win awards for the actors.

Leticia said...

That is why members of The Arc are asking for a screening. I will be listening for their reaction.

Leticia said...

Duffy, I take The Arc's word for it, looking at these scenes depticted, this film is going to do a lot of damage to the gains made by the disability community to halt such childish name calling and mockery. I haven't heard such adolescent attitudes towards the disabled, since I was,well an adolescent.
That Dreamworks has to stoop to such a base level for 'entertainment' shows that they never recovered from the Hollywood writer's strike.

Elisabeth's Mom said...

Who are they fooling, right? I can't believe they thing we're gonna fall for the "satire of industry standard."

Did you have any issues with Rosie, Cuba, or Sean portraying people we know? I think they did a great job. Lord knows I couldn't do it.

Daniel Day Lewis was the best in "My Left Foot."

Stiller is taking a cheap shot here and a cowards way out because he can't even admit he made a mistake.

MissJean said...

The problem with "satirizing Hollywood" is that it flies right over the heads of the older teen target audience. Last year students were constantly calling each other "Jew" and "dirty Jew" because they heard it on a TV show. They already use the phrases "'tard" and "sped" (special ed) as derogatory terms; I have no doubt "retard" will make a big comeback this fall.

Ruth said...

I posted about this issue on my blog and a reader pointed out the number of T shirts at Cafe Press using the word "retard" and mocking it. I did a search and he was right. Movies like this just add to the negative language and treatment already out there.

I also wrote on my blog in the past month about how I was called "retarded" (it's happened a number of times from cars that drive by too). I'm just out in my power chair trying to get around and work to pay my bills, minding my own business. Not as bad as when it happens to a child however. But it's a very real problem and this movie isn't going to help. Thanks Leticia for your post and thanks everyone for caring.