Here’s some data about the film, gleaned from an advance screening of “Tropic Thunder” arranged for me this afternoon by DreamWorks/Paramount.

This post attempts to assemble information that may help readers and advocates frame their own opinions about questions that have been raised about the language used in the film and its marketing, and the portrayal of the character of Simple Jack.

– The Background –

“Tropic Thunder” is a big-budget, R-rated summer comedy made by DreamWorks/Paramount and directed and co-written by Ben Stiller, who also stars. The movie plot centers around a group of pampered actors who are lost in the jungle while making a war movie. Stiller’s character, Tugg Speedman, is presented as a fading action hero who earlier failed in his bid for Oscar glory while portraying Simple Jack, a character with an intellectual disability. Speedman’s portrayal of Simple Jack is featured as a movie within the movie.

A national coalition of disability advocacy groups has objected to the frequent use of the word “retard” in “Tropic Thunder” and its promotional materials. Early promotion of the film described Simple Jack as a “retard” and an elaborate DreamWorks marketing website that was taken down this week in response to complaints carried the tagline “Once upon a time … There was a retard.”

One scene that has been much discussed on the internet is the one in which Robert Downey Jr.’s character advises Stiller’s character to “Never go full retard.”

The term “retard” has been characterized by disability rights advocates as hate speech that heaps insult and possible harm on a group that has a long history of being stigmatized and vulnerable. They compare it with racial, ethnic and sexual epithets and stereotypes that have historically been used by majority groups to target and humiliate minority groups.

Studio executives have said the film is a comic satire intended to josh actors and the entertainment industry, not people with disabilities. They say the film plays broadly for laughs, offers equal offense to all groups, and is intended only as entertainment without a deeper subtext.

Stiller’s performance as Simple Jack is visible in the film from beginning to end, and provides a critical plot point needed to advance the film to its conclusion. The plot involving Simple Jack, and Stiller’s portrayal of the character, occupy close to 30 minutes of screen time. In character, Stiller speaks in a stilted, stuttering, adenoidal fashion, and wears overalls, bad false teeth and a classic institutional bowl haircut.

The film premieres Monday and is scheduled for nationwide release on Wednesday. As of this writing, promised screenings of the film for disability rights advocates have been postponed until Monday, the day the film premieres.