Rights Group Calls for Tropic Thunder Boycott

Ben Stiller Tropic Thunder

And it’s not because of Robert Downey, Jr.’s portrayal of an actor who dons extreme blackface.

A coalition of disability advocacy groups is calling for a nation wide boycott of Tropic Thunder over the movie’s use of hate speech against the intellectually disabled. The main source of contention is a subplot in which Ben Stiller plays a mentally challenged character Simple Jack in the hopes of winning an Oscar. Throughout the film, Stiller’s Simple Jack is referred to as a “retard,” a term that is considered by some to be hate speech.

I remember an American Studies course I took in college and we had a guest speaker who was a disabilities advocate. She said that to her, the word “retard” was as offensive as the word “nigger.” I had never thought of it in that light. She explained that if derogatory language was unacceptable when referring to one’s color, it should also be unacceptable when referring to one’s mental or physical abilities. The reason none of think of “retard” that way is because we largely ignore the mentally challenged. Since then, I have tried my best to refrain from using that word.

I did remember something about Simple Jack in one of the previews I saw, but I didn’t think it would be such a prevalent theme throughout the picture. I was more concerned with the reaction to Downey, Jr.’s blackface. However, I still think Tropic Thunder is going to be awful damn funny.

I think a boycott is an appropriate response. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it. Tell people why you’re not watching and maybe they’ll join you. I will probably see this at some point. I don’t discount the offense at all, but I think if we bind comedy by what is tasteful or unoffensive, the world would be a lot less funny.

[Via New York Times]