Controversy continues to surround Stiller movie

September 19, 2008 7:37:37 PM PDT
There has been progress to improve society's view of people with developmental disabilities. Things changed when the language in a popular movie offended many individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Whether it's language or action, negative portrayal of people with disabilities often opens the doors to prejudice and abuse.

In the film "Tropic Thunder," Ben Stiller plays a fame-hungry actor cast in a war movie. He previously had a role as a mentally disabled character named ''Simple Jack." The character is repeatedly referred to as a "retard."

"The R-word is unacceptable," said John Voit, the president and CEO of Seguin Services. It is a not-for-profit organization serving people with developmental disabilities in the Chicago area.

"Words are very powerful, and your words form attitudes, beliefs, values that turn into actions," Voit said. "People who might watch this movie might say, 'Well, people who are retards, I don't want them working in my company, I don't want them living in my neighborhood. I don't want them participating in my schools next to my child.'"

Even for people with developmental disabilities, such as Glenora Mills, it hurts.

"When I've seen the movie, I did not like how they put us down," she said. "It was the very vulgarist movie I've ever seen, the language and how they made fun of handicapped people."

Other movies like "Rainman," "I Am Sam" and even the comedy "The Ringer" have characters with developmental disabilities. But they are portrayed with respect.

What surprises Voit the most is that Stiller, who co-wrote and directed "Tropic Thunder" was being insensitive to people with disabilities.

"If you look at Ben Stiller's own admission in his biography, he suffers from a bipolar disability, and that's a very challenging disability to deal with," Voit said. "He has obviously succeeded in his life, but I'm sure he's been the subject of understanding abuse."

The disability community protested the released of "Tropic Thunder," which earned top dollars at the box office. The issue is not that people with developmental disabilities are humorless, it's more says National Arc board member Nancy Webster.

"I am channeling dignity and integrity and respect, and I think that we should be about that even if it's comedy," said Webster.

"I think there's ways of portraying lots of things in a comedy without targeting and at the expense of people that would be harmed and hurt by this," Voit said.

If you are interested in learning more about this issue, go to www.thearc.org, or www.seguin.org


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