/ 13 August 2008

Disability groups call for boycott of Stiller comedy

The plot is classic Hollywood cornball. ”Through a series of freak occurrences, a group of actors shooting a big-budget war movie are forced to become the soldiers they are portraying,” declares the promotional material for the Ben Stiller comedy Tropic Thunder, released this week.

But reality has intruded on the spoof war film in a way that its makers did not anticipate. A loose coalition of a dozen disability rights groups is calling for a boycott of the $90-million production because of its use of the term ”retard” to refer to a character played by Stiller.

A small group demonstrated outside Monday’s Los Angeles premiere of the film, carrying placards reading: ”We are people first,” and ”We have abilities not disabilities.”

”I came out feeling like I had been assaulted,” David Tolleson, executive director of the National Down Syndrome Congress, said after seeing a preview screening of the Dreamworks film.

”I saw the film this morning,” Andrew Imparato, president of the American Association of People with Disabilities, told the New York Times. ”It was even worse than the hateful stuff they used in promoting it.” A website for the film had featured the tagline ”Once there was a retard” — it has since been removed.

Written, directed by and starring Ben Stiller, the film aims to mock actors who will go to any length to advance their careers, according to its makers. A statement, issued by Dreamworks in light of the controversy, described Tropic Thunder as, ”an R-rated comedy that satirises Hollywood and its excesses and makes its point by featuring inappropriate and over-the-top characters in ridiculous situations”.

But Timothy Shriver, chairperson of the Special Olympics, deplored the depiction of Simple Jack in a subplot.

”It’s never funny when good and decent human beings are humiliated,” he wrote in the Washington Post. ”In fact, it is dangerous and disgusting. This film is all that and more.” — guardian.co.uk