One of the characters in Ben Stiller’s “Tropic Thunder” is an Australian actor who undergoes a deep-tissue pigmentation to become black. One is an overweight, drug-addled comic who seems to speak only in farts.
Stiller and company have navigated plenty of minefields in their new Hollywood satire, and the unlikeliest one of all might trip them up. A consortium of disability groups has called for a national boycott of the highly anticipated war spoof because of what they see as open ridicule of the mentally handicapped, according to The New York Times.
In the movie, Stiller’s character, Tugg Speedman, plays a character called “Simple Jack” in a film within the film, a satire of actors who chase Oscar glory by portraying the mentally challenged. Disgraced by his performance, Speedman is repeatedly referred to throughout the movie as a “retard.”
“The most disappointing thing, the most incredible thing, is that nobody caught it,” Special Olympics chairman Timothy Perry Shriver told the paper, adding that he planned to picket the film’s Monday (August 11) premiere in L.A. and ask Congress for a resolution condemning the movie’s so-called “hate speech.”
“That will be the start of a nationwide protest,” Special Olympics spokesman Peter Wheeler told Reuters. “We will continue to be vocal about the destructive effect of this film. We are asking people not to go to the movie and hope to bring a consciousness to people about using derogatory words about this population.”
While not denying that ridicule exists in the film, Wheeler, Shriver and the rest of the protesters miss the point of who is being made fun of, Stiller told MTV News.
“It’s sort of edgy territory, but we felt that as long as the focus was on the actors who were trying to do something to be taken seriously that’s going too far or wrong, that was where the humor would come from,” Stiller insisted. “[The joke is on] actors reaching for roles in terms of hopefully winning awards.”
“Some people have taken this as making fun of handicapped people, but we’re really trying to make fun of the actors who use this material as fodder for acclaim,” co-writer Etan Cohen echoed to MTV. “The last thing you want is for people to think you’re making fun of the victims in this who are having their lives turned into fodder for people to win Oscars.”
The joke, then, is really on people like Dustin Hoffman (“Rain Man”), Sean Penn, (“I Am Sam”) and Tom Hanks (“Forrest Gump”), actors who do more harm than good by denying the painful realities of the illness and instead paint their characters as too sunny or bright, Cohen said.
“Movies about the mentally retarded is something we talked about for a long time. My grandfather was adopted by a mentally retarded man, a man who shouldn’t have been allowed to adopt a kid,” Cohen revealed. “When he saw ’Forrest Gump,’ you never saw a guy angrier than him. It was not such a picnic to be raised by that guy.”
According to The Times, over a dozen groups, including the National Down Syndrome Congress, plan to join the boycott, urging Paramount and DreamWorks Studios to change the film’s content.
No such changes will be made, DreamWorks spokesman Chip Sullivan insisted in a statement released to Ain’t It Cool News.
“The film is in no way meant to disparage or harm the image of individuals with disabilities. We have had productive discussions with representatives of disability-advocacy organizations and look forward to working with them closely in the future,” Sullivan wrote. “However, no changes or cuts to the film will be made.”
“Tropic Thunder” opens Wednesday.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Tropic Thunder.”
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