Disability news, Accessibility Issues, Disability Issues, Accessiblity News

‘Sorry, Mr. Stiller … You’ve crossed the line’

August 2nd, 2008

Writing in the Staten Island Advance, reviewer Todd Hill says he’s enjoyed lots of raunchy humor in his day, but the use of the word “retard” in “Tropic Thunder” was beyond crude and offensive. Here’s an excerpt from his review:

… The line was firmly crossed for us with the recurring jokes about a movie Ben Stiller’s character had starred in, “Simple Jack,” in which he plays a “retard.” Now, how is this different from Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump” or Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man?” It’s in the context, it’s the decision to use mental disabilities as a source for humor, it’s simply the use of that word. The tagline for the fictional film is, “Once Upon a Time There Was a Retard.”

Sorry, Mr. Stiller and DreamWorks (distributor of “Tropic Thunder”), but that’s too much. It’s offensive. You’ve crossed the line, you’ve hit the wall. And in so doing you may have initiated the beginning of the end for the R-rated comedy, at least for a while.

Earlier posts:

(Promotional image from Staten Island Advance)

16 Responses to “‘Sorry, Mr. Stiller … You’ve crossed the line’”

  1. Jack Hoff Says:

    Oh for cryin’ out loud!!! Is this country so friggin’ PC now that even a damn satirical comedy film like this has to come under fire!?! I saw the movie, and I laughed at most all of the characters in it, even “Simple Jack”. He’s not a real person! Neither is “Four Leaf”! It’s not a slam against “mentally challenged” (is that better?) people or Viet Nam vets. Get over it!!!!

  2. Once a fan of Ben Stiller Says:

    Not only was the movie offensive to the disabled person, but the lack of consideration given to the feelings of a Vietnam War veteran. The opening scene was the worst I have ever seen. Within ten minutes of the movie my husband (who is a Vietnam vet) and I got up and left and demanded our money back. You can bet we will not recommend this movie to anyone. What was Mr. Stiller thinking when he decided to make a movie that made fun of the way many Vietnam vets died. The horror that many vets experienced should never be looked upon as a joke. Mr. Stiller has shown a total lack of respect to these men who gave their lives in fighting for our country. Mr. Stiller should be ashamed of himself. Blood squirting and guts falling out is not the least bit funny!!! Not to those who actually went through the war. Once a fan of Ben Stiller but, no longer.

  3. Travis Biletski Says:

    I just watched Tropic Thunder and it was great. I don’t understand you people and your problem with the word retard or retarded to describe a handicappped person. That is exactly what they are; check the dictionary definition for the word. The use of the word in the movie was hilarious, and if I so choose to see a movie using it in a comedic way, I will pay my 12$ and go see it. You people shouldn’t take away great quality humour from those of us that enjoy it. There was an R rating slapped on this movie by the way. You do go in there willingly. Besides, the point of the humour is targeted at actors not the retards of the world. Just sit back and relax and enjoy a really good movie. I enjoyed and smiled through almost every minute of it.

  4. Tom Foote Says:

    I expect more from professionals who work with powerful visual images. This film could have been pitched from the high ground instead of relying on a hurtful and degrading slur. Shame on the film and those connected to it. This is not ignorance, but outright maliciousness.

  5. Elisabeth's Mom Says:

    It should always be an issue when we see people inaccurately characterised because of their disability. If we laugh at Ben’s characterization of an actor portraying a person with a disability, then it’s the same as laughing at someone’s disability.

  6. moviefan Says:

    its a movie, grow up and quit making issues out of things…

  7. Elisabeth's Mom Says:

    I don’t get it. DreamWorks claims that the use of “retard” is justified because it pokes fun at an industry that exploits, pities, patronizes and parodies the lives of our children with mental retardation labels?

    I think Daniel Day Lewis’s non fictional Christy Brown and Dustin Hoffman’s semi fictional “Raymond” were portrayed with dignity and respect. So that leaves Tom Hank’s and his “Forrest Gump” whose disability had nothing to do with the plot line or characterization …

    or did it?

  8. Peter Gramenelles Says:

    It’s time for all of us to take a look at what we’ve become.

    Unfortunately, DreamWorks is no longer the class production outfit that it once was. It has lost its glory in the making of a picture that ridicules the least able in this society.

    Is it a noble thing just to make money by using words that have been offensive ? Do we sell our souls, intellect and decency just to make a buck?

    What is the mission of DreamWorks: to sell or to expand the minds of moviegoers ?

    Steven Spielberg, you should be ashamed of yourself. You were once a great Producer-director-writer, who reached out and made us feel sad for a creature named ET. Now you are part of the dregs of society who can only make a buck appealing to those in society who lack compassion and vision.

    It’s my opinion that those who have power should use it for a greater good. There is no greater good in using demeaning gutter language for a profit or a laugh.

  9. lisbeth west Says:

    The stronger we speak out against it, the better publicity it will receive. Our society has been sensitive with the word for almost twenty years and with the recent comments about autistic children in the popular culture gossip, it is in focus NOW.

    The word might be heard on the children’s playground but I have also heard parents tell their children not to use it.

    The method and tactic for a lesson about the word’s use and the meaning behind it — is to let the consumer feel his feelings when he hears or sees it.

    The immediate knee-jerk response to any attempt at PCing about a film or book or comment must be a shared experience. Until the consumer has the ability to react to blatant racism, sexism, disability (phobia?), homophobia and the culture bashing that Hollywood thinks will sell, he will not listen to our voices.

    But they have heard their echo the process of understanding (explained in too much detail below) and acceptance is growing and taking root in our culture.

    This doesn’t happen overnight. We have gonged the bell and flown the flag – our victories in the ADA and our visibility in public is showing that we are not going away. A process must happen in social change: A loud thunder about the injustice, to be followed with education and awareness. “Say it loud and wake ‘em up”. Then comes the softer approach (ADA appreciation awards, for instance) and the gift of actual dialog and discovery.

    We are here at that point. The tone and content of this offensive movie (the bashing line-up) is simply too obviously wrong. To some it will be uncomfortable. Good. For some it will be a question in their minds. Good. For some there will be the sensing of the reaction of the people around them (peer pressure or group response) and THEY LEARN. They aren’t told, preached to, warned, or even aware that this film is going to be educational in the debate it will bring later and the response we see after it sinks into our pop culture.

    I have been in many many social change movements, this is the most important and the one that is probably most difficult for people to deal with. In truth, they are a doctor visit or a car accident away from changing their “temporarily-able-bodied” status; while some will respond to returning vets with clearer recognition and motivation for accessible public places. They see a soldier and don’t think about their fear.

    However, there is also a Puritan lesson that is permeated into our society and that has recently been shown by a celebrity, who was quoted as saying that the earthquake in China might have been karma for China’s murderous uprising in Tibet – and was lambasted for it.

    We use the word Karma without understanding. Before this word, we heard about “burdens”… and the the depth of our socialization mentions the “sins of the fathers” in a whisper over the centuries of silence.

    No, lets begin to trust the public a bit more and see what level of moral outrage they will meet when they see this movie. We would only cause better ticket sales among the target audience if we give them a word of dissent.

    The public’s discomfort soon moves to self-censorship and group pressure to find a different way to describe our movement. Historically the word or phrases become a taboo — media responds, the public “outcry” is heard and celebrity careers are damaged or over.

    Finally (which hasn’t happened and probably won’t until we quit putting ourselves into labels and generalities and stereotypes and groups, but that’s a later topic) sociologically-speaking, we should move from Taboo to a More (pronounced moray). That is when the awareness and sensitivity to a judgment or action is, well, just a deeply rooted as the fears that we see now in “temporarily able bodied” persons. One of our social mores is cannibalism. As you can imagine, it changes through cultures.

    I my soapbox on wheels under the desk, so I can bring it out whenever I need it and can roll it back under when it is time to listen. It’s back under the desk. (Sometimes my hubby hides it… ; )

    So I shall remain your friend and comrade in the most important social change movement of them all!

    disabled and proud
    lisbeth west

    join me on Facebook to keep educating and influencing thousand of people!!! http://profile.to/westgallery (or search my name)

  10. Andrea Says:

    I always refuse the word RETARD. It is not right to do that to people who you care about. We all have challenges we face head on. I know what it is like to to called that word.

    Even when my sister and I went to elementary school together, I was called retarded. And I did not know how to express how I felt. So my sister and her friends stood by me and were there to support me 100 percent.

    When I reached high school and I was playing volleyball I heard some people say, Hey, Retard. And I said nothing. The next thing I heard them say was, You can’t do anything right. You are a retarded fool. By then I said, You have a problem.

    After that I walked away and I got new friends.

  11. Ms. Jones Says:

    Here is the problem for me. Many black artists were hurt by the use of black face in vaudeville and the notion that before they hire me, they would rather put on makeup to be and then humiliate me.

    Robert Downey Jr. is practically in black face, and I find it funny. That is being satirical. There is an actual black actor there pointing out the stereotypes.

    If there was a comedic artist with disabilities who was counteracting the comments, then as a writer you would then be able to talk about how you were trying to poke fun at the stereotypes. But “Never go full retard”, come on!! There’s nothing to counteract that.

    However, I do not want to see a PSA on being nice to people with disabilities. I don’t want anyone to be nice to my son because he has Down Syndrome. My son also has a major attitude problem and then when he wants something he can be as sweet as pie. He is 4, he is the light of my life and he is human. Everyone likes to laugh. No one like to be laughed at

  12. Andrea Mann Says:

    I do not appreciate the use of the word “retard,” and don’t find it to be funny or to be used at all in a movie. This is why kids start calling children names and they run home crying. As a mother of a child who has Down Syndrome and a sister of an adult who has seizures and has special needs, I do take offense to the use of the word being thrown around loosely. I do not support the idea of the movie!

  13. Anthony Tusler Says:

    The furor from my community about Tropic Thunder is disquieting. I think the bad images of disability in, at least, the trailer and promotional materials are a paper tiger. First, I totally support Patricia Bauer’s insightful question about whether the film company employed people with disabilities. Her question is always relevant whenever disability is being portrayed in a movie. The movie may or may not be funny, I haven’t seen it, but it is a comedy and a satire. In particular, Simple Jack, the movie within a movie within a movie is clearly poking fun at the heartfelt, triumphant, earnest movies about people with disabilities.

    It is the well-meaning, false, portrayals of us that we should be protesting. It’s Rain Man, Radio, Passion Fish, Miracle Worker, or the ABC After School Specials that make us out to be super heroic, long-suffering, tragic, and pitiful that we should be complaining about. It’s more the biography of Christopher Reeve than the Hunchback of Notre Dame that reinforces people’s stereotypes and prejudices about us.

    Give me a flawed satire rather than a feel-good story of disability any day.

  14. Johanna Mattern Allen Says:

    It’s fatiguing as a parent to be constantly in the position of “reacting” to yet another demonstration of socially-sanctioned, profit-generating hate against our loved ones. I will, of course, participate in the requisite public awareness campaign–send it to all my friends, relatives, school officials, and community connections–but the fact remains that the unquestioned mocking of people with intellectual disabilities in popular culture is a systemic issue needing a proactive plan.

    The issue isn’t going away and, like any systemic societal illness, it needs to be addressed as such.

    I hope the disability groups organizing over this film develop an on-going, proactive platform against hate, and that they dedicate funds and resources to the issue. As a person who pays yearly membership dues to many of these national organizations, I would consider it money well spent.

    Perhaps funds donated by DreamWorks could be used as seed money for a public awareness campaign? Perhaps, in addition, DreamWorks should create and distribute an anti-hate PSA trailer to distribute with its films?

    I also urge the organizers meeting with DreamWorks to draw direct lines between hate speech and the hate crimes against our loved ones. Brent Martin being beaten to death “for sport” = Mathew Shepherd. We must call it what it is in order to advocate not only for our loved ones, but for parents, siblings, friends — the many victims of hate speech — who are constantly asked to navigate an increasingly hostile society.

    The time, funds and energy dedicated to anti-bullying can be undone the instant a teenage anti-hero like Ben Stiller says, “Psst…it’s o.k. to bully people with intellectual disabilities…wink, wink, nod, nod,” in the comforting dark of the movie theater.

    If we develop proactive strategies that preempt the constant re-action, perhaps then we would be less likely to be used subversively by a film studio as grassroots marketing for a film that endorses hate.

  15. Betsy Burns Says:

    Here’s a helpful test about the usefulness or appropriateness of using a word such as “retard” in any context: Exchange the word “retard” for “Jew” or “Homo” or “Nigger” (or “Redskin” or “Mick”… the list is endless) and ask yourself if these minority groups would mobilize, boycott, articulate fury and disrespect.

    Would the producer then say, “Oh, it was just a joke about Jews”? Or “I was making fun of racist people who make jokes about Niggers”? or “I was showing the ignorance of people who say ‘homo’”?

    Don’t disregard these responses as being PC. If you do, then you have to disregard the rights of other minorities. The difference is that people with disabilities need others to mobilize for them.

    The irony here is that Ben Stiller is a smart and sensitive person who, in his personal life, DOES show respect for people with disabilities. I look forward to his response.

  16. justin Says:

    Relying on the built-in societal disdain for mental inequality, this use of “retard” is not only lazy script writing, it is absolutely mean-spirited. The impact is greater than any cliched moral summation can overcome.

    The real challenge will be explaining to my 8-year-old son, who has Down syndrome, that his admired lead from the “Museum” movies has made it cool for other kids to call him a “full retard.”

    Mr. Stiller has more skill than this. I’m disappointed that his judgment has gone by the wayside as well.

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