Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Why everyone, especially Catholics, should boycott Tropic Thunder

I've been praying over the past few days about this post. My answer came during a conversation with a Catholic mom of children with disabilities who said to me that she believed what is best for people with disabilities is best for all of us. Sometimes we say things that provide the answer others are looking for.

And so I ask for a boycott of Tropic Thunder with my heart and soul and I'm asking other Catholics to read this post and consider the Church's teachings and our moral obligations.

The movie Tropic Thunder makes fun of and mocks people with cognitive disabilities. It repeatedly uses the "r" word. It provides catch phrases to add further fuel to negative stereotypes and, sadly, to dehumanization of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. I firmly believe as a Catholic that when any human being is treated as less than, it is a spiritual defilement of the body of Christ. So I ask with my soul.I also have a nephew with a disability whom I dearly love. So I also ask with my heart.

In discussions I've seen and have had, people argue the negative content of this movie away as satire or invoke the right to free speech. These arguments ignore the history of name calling and civil rights. To insist on the right to mock people with cognitive disabilities in a free country has nothing to do with freedom or being free. It has a high price, a cost that far exceeds anything we as humans really can comprehend. It adds to exclusion and discrimination, with wide ranging consequences in quality of life issues such as employment, education, and even hate crimes.

Our children, whom we love dearly, need to be taught that this kind of laughter at the expense of a vulnerable human being is wrong and harmful. Taking a stand is setting an example that guides future generations toward recognizing indeed that what is best for people with disabilities is best for all of society.

We as Catholics have a moral obligation to uphold the teachings of the Church, the dignity of every human being, and the USCCB's teachings on inclusion of people with disabilities not only in the Church but in society at large. It is a higher standard than for those who use a secular standard, but a clear one.

Below I've posted a National Statement put out by groups in support of the boycott of Tropic Thunder. It states the reasons why. I'd ask you to read it and consider your stand on this movie. Perhaps you'll feel called to pray about it, as I have, before asking others to boycott the movie. Perhaps you belong to a group who wishes to add its name. Please know I have prayed, long and hard, and I ask you to consider these actions with all my heart and soul.

Statement of Support and Solidarity

We, as organizations and self-advocates representing members of the disability community, recognize the dignity of individuals with intellectual disabilities, the challenges they and their families face, and the meaningful and powerful contributions they make to their families, their communities, and their country,

Acknowledge that individuals with intellectual disabilities have been subject to discrimination, abuse, and exclusion from society throughout history;

Recognize that the more than 200 million individuals with intellectual disabilities worldwide, and more than 6 million individuals with intellectual disabilities in the US, have suffered severe consequences including: institutionalization, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse,denial of education, employment, and healthcare, segregation, and targeted hate crimes;

Acknowledge that "attitudes and expectations of the public, in part, determine the degree to which children, adolescents and adults with intellectual disabilities are able to learn, work and live alongside their peers without disabilities." (President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, 2004);

Understand that for over four decades, the media has consistently mischaracterized people with intellectual disabilities; (Pardun, 2005)

Realize that over 80% of U.S. adults surveyed feel that media portrayals are an obstacle to the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. (Pardun, 2005)

Recognize that many people, including those with intellectual disabilities, their families and friends, consider the "R-word" just as offensive as the "N-word;" and

Declare that under the guise of "parody," whether intentional or not, Tropic Thunder demeans, insults, and harms individuals with intellectual disabilities by using the "R- word." Furthermore, it perpetuates derogatory images and stereotypes of individuals with intellectual disabilities including mocking their physical appearance and speech, supports the continuation of inappropriate myths and misperceptions, and legitimizes painful discrimination, exclusion, and bullying;

TOGETHER, we declare our intention to make the public aware of the need to create and foster inclusion of individuals with intellectual disabilities as a matter of social justice by:
. Boycotting the film and explaining to our nation's children why the film is harmful;
. Educating the public, especially young people, about intellectual disabilities through far-reaching awareness campaigns to ban the use of the "R-word," and other initiatives to permanently change attitudes and promote inclusion;
. Calling on Hollywood studios, writers and executives to pledge to make this the final chapter in a sullied history of demeaning portrayals of individuals with intellectual disabilities and assist in public education campaigns;
. Requesting that Congress investigate and conduct oversight of how Hollywood portrays individuals with intellectual disabilities and the effect these portrayals have on our nation and around the world.



American Association of People with Disabilities
American Foundation for the Blind
Arc of the United States
Autistic Self-Advocacy Network
Best Buddies International
Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc.
National Council on Independent Living
National Down Syndrome Society
National Down Syndrome Congress
Special Olympics

Disabilities Network of NYC

If your group is interested in signing on to the attached Statement of Support and Solidarity, please send your name, group name, and contact information to Barbara Kornblau at Special Olympics, ASAP at


David said...

Thanks for this Ruth

Ruth said...

Thanks David. I put your post on the sidebar "favorites" -

Anonymous said...

I just had a guest for dinner. He argued with me that I was overreacting by boycotting the movie. My teen son said check out a search of the stuff they're selling on Cafe Press for "retarded". If anyone doubts that the use of this word isn't hurtful, they should take a look at what's out there on T shirts.

Ruth said...

Anonymous- I just took a look and your son is right- that's an indication of the kind of response that happens. Very sad that people intend to walk around wearing T shirts or drink out of mugs with sayings like that.

Edward said...

The USCCB has rated the movie Morally Offensive. http://www.catholicnews.com/data/movies/08mv120.htm

Ruth said...

Edward, Thanks very much for the link and information.

Goldie said...

Here are my posts on the subject-



what scares me is that people aren't reading them, aren't commenting. maybe they really don't care... but they SHOULD!!!

Ruth said...

Thanks for leaving the links to your blog. I've been having some interesting discussions - some offline- but find many are surprised and taken aback that a group protest would happen from those with disabilities- but are starting to ask questions that are leading to a dialogue we need to have as a society.

Goldie said...

I made the observation somewhere that my R word post and Tropic Thunder post were not getting many clicks... another blogger commented that 1. it was summer, and 2. people have moved on to the next hot topic. and she is not wrong.
But one reason why I posted about the R word separately is that I wanted it to stand alone, not JUST in light of the TT debaucle. I had wanted to write about it for a while, ever since I saw the link here. So it bothers me that people are not thinking about the general issue of respectful language. Tropic Thunder may already be yesterday's news, but the issue of learning to value others with our words is NOT.