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Update on offensive film: "Tropic Thunder"

Posted Aug 11 2008 9:13pm
Help The Arc Fight Offensive Portrayal of People with Intellectual Disabilities



Background



Tropic Thunder is an action/adventure/comedy scheduled for nationwide release on August 13 and promises to be one of the blockbusters of the summer. DreamWorks is the film's producer and Paramount is its distributor.

The premier will be held in Los Angeles, California on Monday, August 11.The film features popular actors Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black as self-absorbed actors filming a big-budget war movie on location. Through a series of freak occurrences, they are forced to become the soldiers they are portraying. Stiller plays Tugg Speedman, a fading action star who earlier failed in his bid for an Oscar as "Simple Jack," a man with an intellectual disability.



"Simple Jack" is featured as a film-within-a-film, with Stiller sporting a classic institutional bowl haircut and bad teeth (see poster below). The film within-a-film's slogan is "What he doesn't have in his head, he makes up for in his heart." A satirical plot synopsis quotes a critic as saying that Speedman's Jack was "one of the most retarded performances in cinema history."

Status

A small number of disability advocates was able to screen the film on Friday, August 8. Their assessment of the film was that it was far worse than anything they could have anticipated. According to David Tolleson, the Executive Director of the National Down Syndrome Congress who attended the screening, "it provides real ammunition for cruelty" especially for the film's target audience of adolescent males. "Not only is the Simple Jack character highly central to the film's plot, it is portrayed in the most demeaning way," according to Tolleson.

In perhaps the single most offensive scene in the film, Matthew McConaughey, who plays a Hollywood agent, speaks to the film's main character who wants to adopt a child. "Well, at least you still have a choice. I'm stuck with mine," states McConaughey while pointing to a photograph of his teenage son who appears to have an intellectual disability.There has been mounting outrage from the disability community as the film's content is gradually becoming known.

For excellent coverage of the issue, see Patricia Bauer's Column and related posts. Hundreds of comments have been posted on the blog expressing outrage about the movie. Representatives of a number of national disability organizations, including The Arc's Executive Director Peter V. Berns, met with DreamWorks and Paramount studio executives in Los Angeles, California on Wednesday, August 6. The purpose of the meeting was to express concerns, request a viewing of the film, and discuss possible solutions.

Take Action

Depending on negotiations with the studio executives over the weekend, The Arc and its coalition partners may be calling on its membership to take appropriate action.

Such action includes a protest at the premier in Los Angeles on August 11 and/or national boycott when the film is released on August 13. Stay tuned......
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