Everyone thought the lightning rod in Tropic Thunder would be Robert Downey Jr.'s comic turn in blackface. Instead, the American Association of People With Disabilities, the National Down Syndrome Congress, the Arc, Best Buddies, and a few other groups are up in arms over the film's perceived disrespect toward the mentally retarded. The coalition has put together an 11-page action kit (excerpts below and on the following five pages) urging supporters to "actively picket" movie theaters "with signs of protest urging patrons not to attend" in a nationwide "Rally for Respect," Aug. 13 through 17.
In the comedy, Ben Stiller (who also directed and co-authored the script) plays a movie action star named Tugg Speedman who (taking a leaf from Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman, Sir John Mills, and Cliff Robertson) tries to win an Oscar by playing a mentally disabled character in a movie called Simple Jack. This gives rise in Tropic Thunder to various jokes, including a review that declares Speedman's "one of the most retarded performances in cinema history" (Page 6).
The Rally for Respect action kit contains a basic checklist (designate "one person to organize efforts"; produce "flyers and posters for distribution") to help supporters achieve "coordinated and organized action" (Page 4). Group chapters are advised how to identify venues screening the film ("you can find that information by going to http://fandango.com and typing in your zip code"), and it's suggested that mentally disabled people acting as "self advocates" be "present to meet and greet theater patrons." The words retard, idiot, imbecile, and moron are condemned as "hate speech …. on par with the N-word" (Page 3). The action kit also provides "talking points" for self-advocates ("as a person with an intellectual disability I have been affected by use of the R-word and other hate speech"; Page 5).
The protest has already affected the film's publicity campaign. A mock trailer for Simple Jack with the tag line "Once upon a time … there was a retard" has been removed from the Internet and, though Paramount apparently won't edit offensive references from the film, the studio issued a statement that it "in no way meant to disparage or harm the image of individuals with disabilities."
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