Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"Tropic Thunder" protests become international

The Jordan Times reports that the Special Olympics there has joined the protest against the movie "Tropic Thunder" and its use of the R-word.

AMMAN - Special Olympics (SO) Jordan has joined global disability rights’ organisations in calling for a boycott of Ben Stiller’s movie “Tropic Thunder”, charging that it insults persons with intellectual disabilities by using the R-word, “retard”.

The movie which was released in Hollywood on August 13 refers to one of the characters, Simple Jack, with the multiple use of the taboo word “retard”, which is considered a disparaging term to describe persons with mental disability, according to disability rights activists.

“The use of the word ‘retard’ referred to as the R-word, contradicts the basic rights of persons with disabilities (PWD) and the UN Convention on Rights of PWD,” SO Organisational Development Manager for the MENA Region Ali Shawahin told The Jordan Times.

“It is our role to spread awareness against the use of this word that underestimates the intellectually disabled and harms the feelings of their families… Watching such a movie with multiple use of the R-word will revive it after the years we spent trying to get rid of it and erase all of our efforts, and we have to do something against it,” he added.

Tropic Thunder is an action comedy directed by Ben Stiller where Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downy Jr. star as a group of actors filming a Vietnam war movie when their writer and director decides to abandon them in the middle of a jungle, forcing them to find their way out.

According to an article published on the ABC news website this week, Simple Jack is part of a film within a film in which Stiller’s character Speed Man, an ageing action movie star, chases after an Oscar by portraying a dim farmhand, complete with bowl haircut and buck teeth, who stutters and talks to farm animals.

Simple Jack is described as a “retard” in the movie, which led a coalition of 22 groups including the Special Olympics, the Arc of the United States and the National Down Syndrome Congress, to launch a campaign to boycott the film during last week’s premiere in Los Angeles.

Protesters held signs with slogan as “call me by my name, not by my label” and chanted “Ban the movie, ban the word,” according to a CNN report.

“I have received many e-mails and calls regarding this movie and how it humiliates persons with intellectual disabilities. I was really hurt”, said Nassar Al Hmoud, a parent of a 28-year disabled son.

“Intellectually disabled persons have abilities and can function in many ways, but ignorance of their condition leads some to describe them in such a way. I will definitely reject such a movie and will be part of this campaign to create positive change,” Hmoud noted.

“We condemn this movie and will work hard to create awareness in the local community against it,” SO Jordan Manager Jamal Nammourah told The Jordan Times.

“It took us time to select the appropriate term to describe this category, and if this movie is screened in local cinemas our work will be destroyed. We will send letters expressing our point of view to cinema halls in Jordan so they cooperate with us in boycotting the movie… I think they will do so when they understand our goals and what this means to families of the disabled,” Nammourah added.

For his part, Omar Abu Omar, manager of Grand Cinemas in City Mall, said they censor any movie before screening it to make sure it does not contradict community values, adding that “if it does not conform to moral and religious values, we try not to show it.”

Meanwhile, Riham Omaish, a mother of two intellectually disabled children and a member of the Higher Council for the Affairs of PWD, believes this movie could be considered motivation for activists to initiate awareness campaigns in the community itself on how creative this category can be if they receive good care and training.

“I refuse to hear anyone calling my children, or any child with a mental disability, a retard. We worked to delete this word because people used to think it has the same meaning as ‘crazy’ or a ‘nut’, which is unacceptable”, she said.

“If the movie is going to be released in Jordan, I will not keep silent and I will fight against it,” Omaish added.