Boycott “Tropic Thunder”

My wife sent me the following email this morning. As a stepfather of an intellectually disabled child, this is something I feel passionately about. It’s one thing for Hollywood to make fun of celebrities, athletes, millionaires, and Republicans. Those people can take care of themselves. But to release a movie with a major theme of poking fun at some of the most vulnerable people — those with mental disabilities — is, in my opinion, reprehensible. Please join me in boycotting Tropic Thunder, and please let your friends know.

We share concern about the images the film Tropic Thunder portrays about people with developmental disabilities. Mary will attend the screening of this movie tonight so that we form an opinion. I have also emailed yesterday the Atlanta representative for the film a request to discuss our concerns and to ask that more representatives of disabilities be allowed to view the film. I have had no response.

We have been asked to sign onto the attached statement reads:

Declare that under the guise of “parody,” whether intentional or not, Tropic Thunder demeans, insults, and harms individuals with intellectual disabilities by using the “R- word.” Furthermore, it perpetuates derogatory images and stereotypes of individuals with intellectual disabilities including mocking their physical appearance and speech, supports the continuation of inappropriate myths and misperceptions, and legitimizes painful discrimination, exclusion, and bullying;

TOGETHER, we declare our intention to make the public aware of the need to create and foster inclusion of individuals with intellectual disabilities as a matter of social justice by:

    Boycotting the film and explaining to our nation’s children why the film is harmful;
    Educating the public, especially young people, about intellectual disabilities through far-reaching awareness campaigns to ban the use of the “R-word,” and other initiatives to permanently change attitudes and promote inclusion;
    Calling on Hollywood studios, writers and executives to pledge to make this the final chapter in a sullied history of demeaning portrayals of individuals with intellectual disabilities and assist in public education campaigns;
    Requesting that Congress investigate and conduct oversight of how Hollywood portrays individuals with intellectual disabilities and the effect these portrayals have on our nation and around the world.

David Blanchard
Director of Public Policy
Atlanta Alliance on Developmental Disabilities
1440 Dutch Valley Place
Atlanta, GA 30324

Also, here’s what Wikipedia has to say about this issue (as of 8-12-08):

Tropic Thunder has caused controversy in the disability advocacy community.[47] A website for Simple Jack, a faux film exhibited within the film, was pulled on August 4, amid several groups’ concerns over its content.[48] A spokesman for DreamWorks stated “We heard their concerns, and we understand that taken out of context, the site appeared to be insensitive to people with disabilities.”[48] A coalition of more than 22 disability advocacy groups, including the Special Olympics and the Arc of the United States, object to the repeated use of “retard”, which disability advocates call “the R-word,” because of its considered “hate speech” connotations.[36] DreamWorks initially spoke of screening the film with the groups to determine if the film still offended the groups.[49][50] However, the screening was postponed to the same day of the premiere on August 11 instead of August 8.[51] After some representatives for the groups saw the private screening, they planned to picket outside the film’s premiere.[52][53]

Disability advocates and others who have previewed the film report that the offensive treatment of individuals with intellectual disabilities is woven throughout the film’s plot.[54] Disability advocates are urging people not to see the film, claiming it is demeaning to individuals with intellectual disabilities, and they fear it will encourage bullying.[55] A DreamWorks spokesman did not directly respond to the criticism, stating that the film “…is an R-rated comedy that satirizes Hollywood and its excesses, makes its point by featuring inappropriate and over-the top characters in ridiculous situations.”[36] The film’s advertising has been altered, but none of the scenes in the film were edited as a result of the opposition.[36][53]

“I see no humor in making fun of anyone with a mental or physical disability,” said Tim Daren, an advocate for the developmentally disabled. “This is a disgustingly low portrayal of citizens who go through stares, laughing and taunting on a daily basis. DreamWorks and Mr. Stiller are choosing to hide behind their taunting under the auspices of ‘comedic’ creativity, when they are clearly stooping down to the schoolyard bully mentality, and finding humor in mocking someone who cannot fight back. As a society, I keep hoping that we have at least moved forward and educated ourselves to have a modicum of compassion for those who are less fortunate than ourselves. However, it is clear that Mr. Stiller’s writing team and the executives at DreamWorks have never had to defend a sibling, cousin or relative from verbal threats, taunting and name-calling. With this film, they are in fact those who are delivering those insults while asking the general public to pay and laugh with them. The public should refuse to stoop so low.”

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About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • judith collier

    I understand totally! My grandson who is now 16 was born profoundly deaf. One’s heart breaks out of compassion when peers would stare and laugh when he used to sign. He has had a cochlear implant since 7 yrs. old but now that he is a teenager it is even more disheartning as the kids don’t want to take the time with him or get embarrassed by the sound of his speech, so much for mainstreaming in school. On the positive side his innocence is beautiful and the spontaneous love that comes from him makes one repent of all complaining. My heart goes out to all parents of handicapped children. I always stop and talk to other children with handicaps as they are in need of attention from fellow human beings. Christian has trouble believing in a loving God, gee, I wonder why. Of course he is still young but when you are a teenager it is hard.

  • Matt

    I think the people calling for a boycott of Tropic Thunder are doing a terrible disservice to all people with mental disabilities. Are they totally unaware that there are no characters in the movie who are mentally disabled? That Ben Stiller portrays a vain Hollywood actor who gives a terrible performance in a movie called “Simple Jack?” That the whole point is to satirize actors who give showy performances in Oscar-bait movies like “I Am Sam” (Sean Penn) and “Forrest Gump” (Tom Hanks)? This movie has its heart in the right place, and people who don’t get that are terrible, immoral people, who are hurting, with the ignorance, all Americans with disabilities.

  • Carl McColman

    “…people who don’t get that are terrible, immoral people, who are hurting, with the ignorance, all Americans with disabilities.”

    Mighty strong words. I can understand disagreeing with the idea of a boycott, but you do so with real vehemence. I’m surprised at your passion, and wonder what’s driving it. What’s your experience with mental disabilities? I’m a stepfather of a mentally disabled young woman. I have some first hand experience of how painful it is to be rejected, stared at, talked about, made into an object of curiosity. The pain is real.

    I think your logic is specious. Based on what I’ve read about this movie, both on its own website and via its critics, I’m unpersuaded that the movie makes any kind of a moral statement about the depravity of name-calling toward the disabled. There are certainly better ways to educate our young people about diversity and respect for the disabled than to promote this kind of humor.

  • Darrell Grizzle

    I’m glad you posted this here, Carl, although from watching the TV commercials for this movie I was NOT tempted to pay $9 to go see it. Ben Stiller has been in a few good movies (Reality Bites, Mystery Men), and it’s a shame he feels he has to pander to the lowest common denominator of our society.

  • movie junkie

    Ben Stiller has a track record of doing anything for a laugh

  • best

    Thats right.

  • Brent Alexander Cusimano

    really Iam tired of this shit if u don’t like sumthin don’t watch it. and I have a friend who has a sister with down syndrome and both him and his mom thinks there was nothin wrong with simple jack. People r to easily offended these days. If Simple Jack was an acutual movie it would be good and not making fun of the handicapped. It was ment to be ridiculed and funny in tropic thunder. I’ll say it again if it was an actual movie it would be good and heartwarming about not judgeig sumone becuz of there disability, the fact is he is kid and gentle and good with animals. All u people “boycottinng” this r doig more hurt and damge to people that r handicapped by givig the subject to much media attension. I think the real thing is, is that YOU want to find sumthin to bitch and moan about.