Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tropic Thunder Film Protest

Image:Tropic thunder ver3.jpg

Disabled people are not a joke.

Which is why the release of Ben Stiller's new film, Tropic Thunder, has caused hurt and outrage amongst the disabled community of San Francisco.

So much so that members of The Arc, a resource group for disabled people, gathered it's members and supporters today to placard outside the Metreon cinema and are asking people to boycott the film.

Also represented were Bay Area People First, an organization set up by and for disabled members of the community.

At the heart of their campaign is the 'R' word...'retard'. In the film, Robert Downey Jr and Ben Stiller in character are discussing a movie within a movie. They are wondering how to win an Oscar. Ben Stiller's advice is: 'Never go full retard,' ie characterization of a disabled person would never win an Oscar.

Tim Hornbecker, Executive Director of The Arc of San Francisco, said, citing as examples people with Downs Syndrome and autism, 'that is so demeaning, and so stereotypical and so disrespectful.'

'A lot of disabled people can't speak for themselves,' he said. 'We are people first. We are people with a disability. We are not our disability or disease.'

He acknowledged that the film was a comedy that also threw out disparaging lines about other minority groups but said, "I think they went over the top.'

He said that Fox had stopped using the R-word and similar offensive language and jokes about disabled people in 2006. His goal now was to get Dreamworks and Paramount, who made Tropic Thunder, to do the same.

The film, released today, is a Hollywood satire based on an action war setting in Vietnam. Stiller is writer-director-producer and the film is R-rated.

A review by: says the following:

'Robert Downey Jr.'s character is a Caucasian actor who undergoes a skin-darkening procedure to play an African-American soldier; while in character, his demeanor is purposely racist. There's also a running gag about "retards" regarding Ben Stiller's character's portrayal of a mentally challenged man.Both of these issues are meant to illustrate the movie's theme: that Hollywood is full of self-absorbed prima donnas who need to stop being so insecure and egotistical.'

Elsewhere the same review says: 'It's all meant to drive home the movie's points about Hollywood, but you may need to explain that to teens.'

The Arc members were handing out a sheet explaining their viewpoints. To the anticipated question 'Shouldn't people with intellectual disabilities just lighten up? It's a joke!' they answer 'NO!' in capital letters!

Disabled people, they say, have had a history of institutionalism and genocide, of being regarded as 'less than human.'

They are the group with the highest levels of unemployment, significant physical, mental and sexual abuse - one in three disabled children are victims - and limited rights.

And The Arc say that these problems continue 'in large part' due to 'discriminatory portrayals in the media and pervasive prejudice.'


In his wheelchair on the pavement was Joseph Flanagan, Client Advisory Committee President. His criticism of the film was that 'it gives the general public a bad impression of people with disabilities.'

'It's giving people the idea that people with disabilities can't work, don't want to work,' he said. 'I feel that people with disabilities need a chance to work. We are trying to get them the help that they need if they want to work.'

He is helping to bring about a new piece of legislation in California that will establish an advocacy training programme, where people will be trained to represent individual disabled citizens with specific difficulties, for example, use of wheelchairs on city buses.

And he has had positive talks with California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

'I believe Governor Schwarzenegger is an excellent governor. He has a retarded person in his he knows what people go through,' said Joseph.

Joseph himself who is South African and has a developmental disability, has had long stays in the past in a state hospital and endured the humiliation of being called a 'retard' and a 'moron.'

The Arc call the 'R' word 'hate speech'.

'Hate speech occurs when a majority group freely makes jokes about a minority group including negative stereotypes and negative images, not just language. It is commonly seen as harmless by the majority, but it sets the stage for more severe outlets for prejudice, harm and abuse.'

Click for further pics. Click to enlarge:

***for info on The Arc and their work:
***Bay Area People First , Advisor Denis J Craig, 1515 Clay Street #300 S, Oakland, CA 94612(510) 286-0761


Anonymous said...

I am sorry people are hurt by that word..but it is just a life bad things happen but it shouldn't wrong be to make a joke about ANYTHING!! A sense of humour is what makes the world go round :)

Anonymous said...

That is riduclous, haven't they got something better to do than stand around all day moaning about a film? (Sorry in the interest of political correctness the "stand around all day" should probably be rewritten as "sit or stand around", but then again maybe this is drawing attention to thier disablity. I'm not sure what best to use so i'll stick with stand.) Surely in a film which is quite obviously a comedy and a farsical view of the film industry, these disableds(to use Ricky Gervais' term) could be fighting discrimination in order to help advance thier cause instead of targetting an industry which aims to offend? Please accept that some people will find jokes about disabled people amusing; i certainly do, in the same way i find jokes about jews, blacks, whites, foreigners, poor people, rich people, tall people, short people, fat people..It's not a case of enough is enough moreover that a joke is a joke.