Boycott, protests planned
Screenings of “Tropic Thunder” for disability rights advocates have been bumped back to next Monday, the same day the film is scheduled to premiere at a red carpet event in Westwood, California. Executives of DreamWorks and Paramount had promised to deliver the screenings by today.
Advocates said they had been told that studio security preparations were to blame, with executives saying they needed to take measures to protect against possible piracy of the $90 million summer blockbuster. “We are not convinced, and are concerned that this is a stalling tactic,” said Peter V. Berns, executive director of the Arc of the United States.
Berns said his organization was continuing to move forward with plans for a possible “massive action” to boycott and protest the film, which has drawn fire from advocacy groups for the prominent use of the word “retard” in the film and promotional materials.
In a meeting on Wednesday, studio executives told advocates that they had already revised some advertising materials to change or remove references to Simple Jack, a character with intellectual disabilities who is played by Ben Stiller in a portion of the film.
Executives pledged to remove references to Simple Jack in “making of” documentaries and from material used on broadcast media and in print. Berns said they also pledged not to create merchandise promoting the Simple Jack character. An elaborate studio marketing website devoted to the Simple Jack character was removed this week.
Meanwhile, Gail Williamson of the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles sent out a memo today detailing demands that were brought by the disability rights coalition in its meeting with studio executives. Both Berns and Williamson, DSALA’s executive director, were among meeting participants. Following is an excerpt of the memo:
Film Screening: Arrange a film screening of “Tropic Thunder” for disability groups, paid for by the studio, in Los Angeles and in Washington, D.C. before the end of this week.
Public Apology: Make a public apology for the thoughtless use of the “R-word” and derogatory depictions of people with intellectual disability with a summary statement of the studio’s intent to curtail its damaging effect and its commitment to specific next steps.
Film Editing: Completely eliminate all direct mention of or reference to “retard” jokes, disability euphemisms, and disrespectful depictions from the film before it is distributed to theatres and released to DVD.
Film Promotion: Eliminate all trailers, web postings, and ads that focus on “retard” jokes, disability euphemisms, and disrespectful depictions, and reference the “R word.”
Specially Created Trailer: Fund and produce a trailer to air prior to each showing of “Tropic Thunder” that addresses the use of the R-word and the hurtful impact it has, even when people do not mean it that way. This same trailer would also be included within the DVD packaging for after market sales.
National Campaign: Create and fund a comprehensive national educational and advertising social campaign to eliminate the pejorative use of the word retard from use in everyday language, and more importantly create a world of dignity, acceptance and inclusion for people with intellectual disability. The campaign would be developed and vetted by an advisory council of representatives from the coalition. The campaign would also be designed to capitalize on social media and social networking to bring young people together and empower them as agents of change for the R-word campaign and involve appearances of those involved in the film’s creation.
Film Studio Summit: Convene the heads of all the major studios to address the appropriate portrayal of people with intellectual in future films and television programs. The summit would also help reduce stigma surrounding one of the largest disability populations in the world while also raising the awareness of the extraordinary gifts and talents people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have to offer.