Dreamworks has produced a nightmare. Paramount Pictures is selling it.
On August 13, 2008, Paramount Pictures released a new comedy film, Tropic Thunder, starring Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr. The movie includes a fictional character named “Simple Jack” portrayed by Stiller. Jack has an intellectual disability (commonly referred to as “mental retardation”) and is an object of great derision in the movie. “Simple Jack” is frequently referred to as a “retard,” along with numerous other derogatory and insulting appellations. It isn’t funny; it is cruel.
As parents, advocates and friends of thousands of Coloradoans with developmental disabilities we feel the degrading commentary in our heart. The words hurt. They also reflect a part of our culture that ignores the real threats that exist for people with intellectual disabilities. The “R word” isn’t funny for the thousands of children with Down syndrome who are tied to their beds and locked away in filthy institutions in some parts of the world. It isn’t funny for more than 6 million Americans with intellectual disabilities who are subject to physical, sexual and emotional abuse or who are often denied equal opportunities for education, employment and healthcare. The “R word “ isn’t funny for the thousands of children and adults we know personally who are excluded, bullied and disrespected every single day in every corner of Colorado.
Tropic Thunder perpetuates degrading images and stereotypes of individuals, mocking their physical appearance and speech. No amount of clever parody or satire could ever justify using the “R word” and all the pain it has caused. It has no place in our society.
Ending the use of the “R word” is more than a politically correct proposal. “Retard”, “retarded”, “idiot”, “moron” and “imbecile” are dehumanizing terms. Hate speech in any form that makes jokes about a minority group is not harmless—it sets the stage for prejudice, abuse and serious harm. It is particularly damaging for those who, in many cases, cannot speak for themselves.
The R word is not funny and there is no excuse for anyone—including film producers, writers, or actors—to make a quick buck at the expense of those who are often the most isolated, victimized and least able to defend themselves. Moviegoers can choose the DreamWorks nightmare or not. Regardless, every Coloradan can make a conscious choice to pay attention to what they say and acknowledge that it is time to say good bye to the “R word” and all the ugliness it conveys.