Slur used in ‘Tropic Thunder’ sparks protests

National protests over a new movie’s depiction of people with disabilities landed in Colonie Wednesd

National protests over a new movie’s depiction of people with disabilities landed in Colonie Wednesday as members of a local group picketed the movie’s showing.

Members of the group Self Advocacy Association, which promotes disability awareness, protested the movie “Tropic Thunder” and its use of words the group says are demeaning to people with disabilities.

“People seeing this movie, especially young people, they’re hearing these words and using these words,” association speaker Shameka Andrews said. “To say it’s just supposed to be funny, it’s not funny.”

The protests at Colonie Center follow ones at the R-rated movie’s Los Angeles premiere on Monday.

The groups are outraged over scenes featuring the liberal usage of a disparaging term used to describe the mentally disabled. In the movie, director and co-star Ben Stiller plays an actor cast in a war movie who previously had a role as a mentally disabled character named Simple Jack.

“When I heard about it, I felt really hurt inside,” said Special Olympics global messenger Dustin Plunkett. “I cannot believe a writer could write something like that. It’s the not the way that we want to be portrayed. We have feelings. We don’t like the word ‘retard.’ We are people.”

Katharine Wilson Conroy, president of the New York State ARC, also condemned the film in a statement. The group is a family-based organization working with and for people who have intellectual and other developmental disabilities.

Conroy argued that the film uses demeaning characterizations of persons with disabilities, characterizations the group and others have worked hard to combat.

“DreamWorks ignores this reality,” Conroy said. “It shows utter contempt for the fact that negative language leads to negative action.”

Andrew J. Imparato, president of the American Association of People with Disabilities, said he and other advocacy groups met with DreamWorks co-chair Stacey Snider and watched a private screening of the film Monday morning. Imparato called the movie “tasteless” and said it was “offensive start to finish.”

“I have a sense of humor,” said Imparato. “There were parts of the movie where I laughed, but it seems to me that the movie tried really hard to go too far and then pull back on everything that was offensive except the issue of people with intellectual disabilities. I just think Ben Stiller and the people involved in this movie just didn’t think it was going to be offensive.”

Following the original complaints from the advocacy groups, DreamWorks pulled some promotional materials, including a Web site that promoted the film-within-a-film starring Stiller’s character, which contained the tag line “Once there was a retard.” DreamWorks spokesman Chip Sullivan previously said in a statement that “no changes or cuts to the film will be made.”

“If you want to pick on people, as the old playground saying goes, pick on people your own size,” said Timothy Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics, who, with other groups, is calling for a boycott of “Tropic Thunder.”

“This population struggles too much with the basics to have to struggle against Hollywood. We’re sending a message that this hate speech is no longer acceptable.”

Material from an Associated Press report was included in this story.

Categories: Schenectady County

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