Dozens of people from organizations such as the Special Olympics and the American Association of People with Disabilities protested the movie-industry spoof across the street from the film's Los Angeles premiere at Mann's Bruin Theatre on Monday. The protesters held up signs with slogans such as ‘Call me by my name, not by my label’ and chanted phrases like ‘Ban the movie, ban the word…’
‘When I heard about it, I felt really hurt inside,’ said Special Olympics global messenger Dustin Plunkett. ‘I cannot believe a writer could write something like that. It's the not the way that we want to be portrayed. We have feelings. We don't like the word retard. We are people. We're just like any other people out there. We want to be ourselves and not be discriminated against…’
Now get out your tissues. Here’s Timothy Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics, co-producer of Amistad, nephew of Ted Kennedy, and brother to Maria, wife of The Terminator:
I am so proud of everyone who turned out to Monday's premiere of the film Tropic Thunder to protest its unfortunate and humiliating portrayal of people with intellectual disabilities…
Together with the members of the international coalition, I am asking Steven Spielberg, Stacey Snider, Ben Stiller and the entire Tropic Thunder team to stop showing the film, and asking movie theaters and moviegoers to shut this movie out. Tropic Thunder is a colossal blunder. Don't show or see Tropic Thunder… I am disappointed that we were not consulted in the same manner as other minority groups depicted in the film and that there are 17 mentions of the "R-word" with one mention of the "N-word…"
The degrading use of the word ‘retard’ together with the broader humiliation of people with intellectual disabilities in the film goes way too far. When the R-word is casually bandied about and when bumbling, clueless caricatures designed to mimic the behavior of people with intellectual disabilities are on screen, they have an unmistakable outcome: They mock, directly or indirectly, people with intellectual disabilities. They perpetuate the worst stereotypes. They further exclusion and isolation. They are simply mean… Ban the R-word. Ban the movie. Take a stand.
Here’s part of the rebuttal by Neil Miller: Adults should have the ability to process the jokes employed by Tropic Thunder within the context of the film and recognize that the joke doesn't target those with disabalities. It satirically takes aim at actors who exploit roles in which they play disabled characters in order to garner acclaim and win awards. Since children might not be able to make that connection or understand that context, the R-rating serves a strong role.
Let me say, first of all, that actors who exploit roles to garner acclaim is a phenomenon called redemptive debasement. It’s when a dishonored HW actor takes a belittling role to improve his/her stature. Coincidentally, Tom Cruise himself indulges in a bit of redemptive debasement in Tropic Thunder by making himself ugly, bald, and hairy as the studio boss. It’s unsettling how wholly evil Cruise behaved but he danced funny so we forgive him. His image might’ve recovered a little from the antics of the last few years by playing that role.
Miller also didn’t quite nail it. First, he misspelled "disabalities." Second, while it’s true the “retard” jokes take aim at actors exploiting roles of the mentally challenged, it’s a little more than that. It takes aim at how ignorant and insensitive some of these actors can be about the people they’re portraying, which is a contrast to how sensitive they can be in other ways. Sure, you’re shocked about the word at first, but what you’re really shocked about is how totally insensitive the actors are. Thus, they made their point. The joke is that these overly-sensitive actors are actually sensitive about no one else except themselves.
“Retard” was the perfect word.
The fact that the word is included shouldn’t even be a point of contention in a big country with free speech. Are we so intellectually bankrupt that we have knee-jerk reactions about a word without even considering its context? It’s the ideas behind the words that should be considered. To complain bitterly about a word only makes people want to say it that much more. Besides, even in the clips we saw of Simple Jack there was a scene where Jack says he “has a brain” and he is accepted. It’s the poor acting that got a laugh.
I’m hardcore when it comes to comedy. I believe comedians should poke fun at everyone without reservation. No one is safe. If you’re a comedian, I say cut your teeth on every thing under the sun without mercy. Bring everything to light. Because the act of comedians poking fun at everyone can be a perfectly healthy, cathartic experience in a society, because it bursts bubbles, releases tensions, makes us let go of trivial matters, brings us all down to the same level, and reminds us that we’re all flawed, funny, human beings. But we don’t really do that anymore because – oh no! – we might offend someone.
True brilliance is the way that you poke fun at those that make you angry, which is why I still love Richard Pryor. He used blue language and blue material, but the seering social commentary beneath the humor was, frankly, nothing short of brilliant. I love him.
Consider this, one of my favorite skits, “The Prison Play.” The fact that the guard is saying the n-word and denigrating homosexuals was (like “retard”) not intended to be an act of meanness on Pryor’s part toward those groups. Pryor is making fun of the racist guard. And he’s making fun of the racists in the play, too. And it works.