Dozens of protesters lined the streets outside of the “Tropic Thunder” premiere in Westwood Monday night, calling for a ban on the Ben Stiller directed comedy.
While Stiller and co-stars Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Matthew McConaughey, Steve Coogan and cameo “Thunder” stars Tom Cruise, Alicia Silverstone, Access Hollywood’s Maria Menounos (who appears as herself in the film, presenting a fictional Access piece within the movie) and Tobey Maguire walked the red carpet of the event’s Los Angeles premiere, a different scene unfolded across the street.
Carrying signs reading “We Have Abilities Not Disabilities,” “Dream Works: ‘Mean Works,’” and “Tropic Blunder,” protesters including members of the Special Olympics, Best Buddies and other groups called for a nationwide boycott of “Thunder” over what they consider a “negative portrayal” of people with special needs.
“We are trying to sensitize people to the fact that we believe this film humiliates people with intellectual disabilities unnecessarily,” Timothy Shriver, Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics told Access Hollywood Monday night. “You can have laughs, you can have a good sense of humor [but] you don’t need to make fun of a vulnerable population. You don’t need to taunt them, you don’t need to make it harder for them to feel included, you don’t need to set them up for taunts for the rest of their lives, and we feel the film does that.”
In particular, the organizations are upset over a scene between Stiller’s character, actor Tugg Speedman, and Robert Downey Jr.’s character, actor, Kirk Lazarus. As Speedman and Lazarus take a break from filming a Vietnam war action film, they discuss Speedman’s recent role playing a person with special needs in “Simple Jack,” a fictional film Stiller’s character starred in.” During their banter, the two talk about how to play a person with special needs, regularly using the “R-word.”
T-shirts bearing a line from the scene with the offensive word have already cropped up on at least one retail web site not connected with the movie, though they have since been taken down. But last night, Gail Williamson of the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles, predicted the movie lines would continue to garner attention.
“DreamWorks knew they had lines that were going to stick in people’s head,” she explained. “People are going to walk out and they are going to use those lines and they are damaging. They are damaging to people of intellectual disabilities.”
But stars of the film, including Stiller, defended the project.
“I think it’s unfortunate,” Stiller told Access of the controversy. “We were always pretty clear with ourselves in terms of what the point of view [was], of where the comedy was coming from in the movie. I stand behind the movie and I would hope that the people who have a difference with it… first of all that the people who organized the protest would actually go see the movie, ‘cause in the context of the film I think it’s very clear that the humor’s at the expense of the actors and I in no way wanted to offend anybody with it.”
But Williamson, who has seen the film, had a message for Stiller.
“Think outside your own little world. Look at those of us who have struggled. I have a son who is 29 who has Down Syndrome,” she said. “I’ve worked really hard to create his life and he’s an actor and he’s out there working as well. And Ben is not even considering that these people are trying to get work and do the same thing he’s doing.”
Black however, who stars as Jeff Portnoy in “Tropic Thunder,” said they meant no harm in making the film.
“I think anyone that sees the movie will see that it’s, it’s just — there’s no harm meant to anyone and it’s just a very funny movie.”