Last night I paid to see Wall-e but instead sat through Tropic Thunder. It was a small act of civil disobedience, if you can even call it that. Now that I've seen it, I stand by every word I've said about it.
TT defenders have made 3 main arguments about why it shouldn’t offend the disability community. It’s satire and not meant to be taken seriously (all in good fun). It pokes fun at itself (Hollywood and actors), not people with disabilities. If you saw the movie, you would understand and not take scenes out of context. See Stiller’s comments here.
I saw the movie and I agree. It IS satire. It DOES make fun of Hollywood. RDJ did a fine acting job as did Tom Cruise who was side-splitting hilarious. AND it DOES insult me as a member of the disability community.
In TT, studio heads and agents are shown to be evil, disgusting creatures concerned only with fame and making money. Spoiled actors are prima donnas; demanding TiVo on location, spitting out snacks, requiring their assistants and cell phones (& drugs) on hand at all times, whining constantly, and on and on. TT also pokes fun at Oscar chasers who have portrayed people with special needs. At the end, Speedman (played by Stiller) wins an Oscar for Best Actor instead of Tom Hanks in a wheelchair or Sean Penn as a man who appears to be blind (images shown behind the podium).
In the Daily Show interview last night, Stiller says that he had been working on the script for 7-8 years and for 2 years he had worked on it full time. If I could ask him directly, I would like to know, did he foresee the public outcry that is happening? I don't think so. Frankly he has seemed somewhat stunned and bit a sad of late, but then maybe I'm projecting. Stewart defended his friend by saying Stiller had been "kind enough to come and do an autism benefit." Translation, Stiller supports people with disabilities?
Having seen the film, I'm left with many more questions than answers. Why was such care given to the story line of RDJ in blackface but not the disability story line? An article was written here on the care taken to not offend or cross that line. “It was definitely a constant process of feeling it out. But [in general] what Robert was doing was so genuine and funny, it felt okay.” (Stiller)
A scene features Speedman and his agent, played by Matthew McConaughey, in which he inquires about Speedman's upcoming adoption of a child. "At least you get to choose yours. I'm stuck with mine." A picture is shown of his son who appears to have an intellectual disability. In the theater I was in, the audience laughed, hard. This adoption conversation takes place in a scene in which the agent inquires if Speedman had received TiVo -per his contract. The entire scene didn't need to be cut to orchestrate the points, (agent = bad guy, actor = prima donna). The adoption inquiry and subsequent line is the most offensive and horrific part of the film and should have never been done. Why was it needed to show the agent's son during the end credits on an airplane staring vacantly out the window? Who was that supposed to vilify? The evil agent father?
Is it possible that Stiller does not understand how insulting the use of the "R" word can be to people in the disability community? Our society, by and large, has appeared to be unaware of this fact. That is until the recent movement to ban the “R” word. Some argue that using the "R" word is not meant to insult people with disabilities or that it doesn't refer to them. It does. Period. Regardless of the user's intentions. It is similar to saying the "N" word but insisting that it doesn't have anything to do with African American people. That argument does not hold water.
Did it occur to anyone involved with TT that it would be like a verbal pistol whipping just to hear the "R" word 16 times? Did they have a focus group to discuss it? Did Stiller really think that it would be actors and Hollywood players that would be the butt of the "R" word jokes without hurting people with disabilities? Did he imagine the public would think of Hollywood when his new phrase "Never go full retard" made its way into pop culture? Did he know that the public would take out of context lines from the film to put on t-shirts (now removed from cafepress and ebay) or to hurl at each other as an insult? Did Stiller wonder how it would feel to a person with disabilities to see how he portrayed ‘Simple Jack’ with buck teeth, stammering, institutional bowl hair cut and overalls?
EDITED: What does "Never go full retard" mean? RDJ's character decided that Speedman went 'too deep' into the ‘Simple Jack’ role as a "retard" and thus turned audiences off and lost the Oscar bid. I would argue that the portrayal was the antithesis of accuracy, but maybe that was Stiller's point. ‘It’s ok to play a person with disabilities. Just don't act too retarded (farting in the bath tub, smashing butterflies with hammers) or you've gone too far?’ What's the message? Disabled = inferior? Maybe it means that other actors have made a mockery of people with disabilities and 'Simple Jack' was over the top on purpose in order to make that point. If so, is this likely what all people in the disability community will take away from watching this portrayal while hearing the hoots of laughter from the audience? Is it possible that the message may instead be that a real person with disabilities is a person without value, deserving of mockery?
What's with the line by RDJ "he eased up on the retard throttle?" This is while watching Speedman being forced to recreate ‘Simple Jack’ by his captors. RDJ's character apparently feels that his acting job was better than in the actual movie because he was acting less retarded?
This isn't the first movie Stiller has made with the “R” word. (Something About Mary, Dodgeball). Many other films are guilty of using it too. Why is this one so different, or is it?
“Once upon a time, there was a movie.” It was the giant straw that broke the camel’s back. The nation cried Foul and sparked a movement.