Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Tropic Thunder Boycott Begins

Special Olympics chairman Timothy Shriver has announced that he, along with other disability rights advocates, plans to picket the premiere of Tropic Thunder today in Los Angeles because of its repeated use of the R-word and other offensive language. Mr. Shriver wrote an editorial explaining his reasons for advocating a boycott, in which he describes the movie as "an unchecked assault on the humanity of people with intellectual disabilities—an affront to dignity, hope and respect."

Here's an excerpt from Mr. Shriver's article:

People with intellectual disabilities are routinely abused, neglected, insulted, institutionalized and even killed around the world. Their parents are told to give up, that their children are worthless. Schools turn them away. Doctors refuse to treat them. Employers won't hire them. None of this is funny.

For centuries, they have been the exception to the most basic spiritual principle: that we are each equal in spirit, capable of reflecting the goodness of the divine, carriers of love. But not people with intellectual disabilities. What's a word commonly applied to them? Hopeless.

Let's consider where we are in 2008. Our politics are about overcoming division, our social movements are about ending intolerance, our great philanthropists promote ending poverty and disease among the world's poor. Are people with intellectual disabilities included in the mainstream of these movements? For the most part, no.

Why? Because they're different. Their joy doesn't fit on magazine covers. Their spirituality doesn't come in self-help television. Their kind of wealth doesn't command political attention. (The best of the spirit never does.)

Sadly, they're such an easy target that many people don't realize whom they are making fun of when they use the word "retard." Most people just think it's funny. "Stupid, idiot, moron, retard." Ha, ha, ha.

I know: I could be too sensitive. But I was taught that mean isn't funny. And I've been to institutions where people with intellectual disabilities are tied to beds or lie on concrete floors, forgotten. I've heard doctors say they won't treat them. I know Gallup found that more than 60 percent of Americans don't want a person with an intellectual disability at their child's school.

I've talked to people with intellectual disabilities who cry over being insulted on a bus. I've received too many e-mails from people who are devastated not by their child's disability but by the terror of being laughed at, excluded and economically devastated.

It wasn't funny when Hollywood humiliated African Americans for a generation. It's never funny when good and decent human beings are humiliated. In fact, it is dangerous and disgusting.

Thank you, Mr. Shriver, for making it clear that hate speech of the sort found in Tropic Thunder has very ugly real-life consequences. It's not just harmless humor.

This PSA entitled "R Word," produced by Christschool for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, shows the impact of such language. Readers, please pass it on by copying or embedding the link into your blog posts.

This is what I have to say to the DreamWorks executives, Ben Stiller, and all the others involved with the production of Tropic Thunder who didn't even notice that there was a problem with their language, apparently because the R-word has been used on occasion in other movies without any consequences. Here's my version of the movie's offensive tagline:

Never go full bigot.

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  • Never go full bigot.

    Full. Of. Win.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:49 PM  

  • Are we allowed to say, "Never go full a**hole?" Or is this a family-friendly site?

    By Blogger Joeymom, at 12:01 AM  

  • Absolutely -- Stiller and Dreamworks have gone full bigot.

    By Blogger hollywoodjaded, at 3:27 AM  

  • I'm so disappointed in some of the people connected to this film - they're all complacent and accountable. I don't see anything about this film that isn't offensive. I'm with Joeymom: Never go full a-hole.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:56 AM  

  • It is time to take the "r" word out of circulation.

    I've written a blog post, Words Hurt: The "r" Word, on Wanda and Rick Felty's campaign to "Ban the R Word", and Jenna Glatzer's pledge campaign, as well as the "Tropic Thunder" controversy.

    I'm keeping a partial list people posting negative responses to "Tropic Thunder". I've included a link to your this post.

    I also liked your tag line:

    Never go full bigot.

    By Blogger Liz Ditz, at 9:25 AM  

  • you of all people complaining about hatred and bigotry!!! that is laughable considering you constantly state that autism speaks and the people who donate money so their children have a shot at a better life are committing genocide. I believey our posts about AS constitute hate speech.

    Also, you have posted a link to christ school's film about use of the word retard. Have you seen Mr. Christ school's film about house autistics? Maybe you should post a link to that as i did. Ironic that something like this would come from him.

    Maybe it can be explained to me what the difference is between calling pro cure autistics like myself house autistics and calling developmentally disabled persons retards and black people niggers? I really don't understand the difference.

    By Blogger jonathan, at 12:56 PM  

  • An aside: Stiller and Co. have defended their use of the r-word/protrayals/etc. by saying they are satirizing other hollywood stars and such in their film. Here's a vid of their star, Robert Downey Jr, using the r-word in his everyday speech while promoting Iron Man on Letterman:

    [it's 2:55 in]


    By Blogger hollywoodjaded, at 1:11 PM  

  • I don't think the use of the "r" word was that offensive in the context it was used in, in this movie. But the overall comedic tone in which the word was used could be perceived as offensive.

    I think it's offensive when the "r" word is used to refer to something that has nothing to do with what the "r" word really means. Like when that word is used in connection with some trivial misfortune. That is the type of use that enrages me. Because such trivial misfortunes are petty compared to the misery and suffering of having mental disabilities. And a word that is used to identify such huge problems shouldn't be used to describe something one simply doesn't like.

    By Blogger lurker, at 4:59 AM  

  • I think it's offensive when the "r" word is used to refer to something that has nothing to do with what the "r" word really means. Like when that word is used in connection with some trivial misfortune.

    And I think the r-word is offensive when it's used to denigrate anybody, period.

    Throw-away usage ("man, I'm so r**** for doing that!", etc). is only one way the r-word is used. It's also been used, with full knowledge of its meaning, against people with intellectual and other disabilities.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:21 PM  

  • Have you actually, you know, seen the movie, and are able to state that you've judged it yourself? Any of you? Or are you just going off assumptions?

    The comedy is rated R for a reason, and that involves the level of maturity. You've got to be mature to see it, and if you're a mature person, I doubt you're so easily swayed by an actor in a movie using "retard" to describe himself in a role.

    It's like Rainman, who was portrayed by an actor who wasn't autistic. The only difference is that this time around(other than not being specific), it's parody.

    Remember Zoolander? That lampooned models, and that was the entire point of the film. This is a tiny subplot, not the main selling point of the feature.

    Accountable? For what? For using a "bad word?" There's a huge difference between setting out to intentionally insult people, and using poor taste in jokes. What Tropic Thunder did was the latter.

    How do you feel about Pineapple Express, in which the plot revolves around two key themes; running from (crooked)cops and pot. Isn't that offensive? Marijuana is illegal! As in, actually illegal, unlike a word.

    Remember George Carlin? He had something to say about words, and if he hadn't died, he'd have been saying it right now.



    We can politically correct until everyone has a five to twelve syllable polite name, or we can quit bullshitting ourselves.

    And just an FYI, I'm considered "intellectually disabled" as I have a "neurobiological disorder."
    So pardon me for being a "conformity challenged autistic individual" but enough is enough, people.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:40 AM  

  • Amen, ABFH!

    By Blogger Attila the Mom, at 11:28 AM  

  • Ben Stiller has a track record of doing anything for a laugh (i'm thinking Heartbreak Kid, yuck)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:19 PM  

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