BY GAYLE BUTZGY
You’ve heard the phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me.” Ask an 11-year-old girl walking into a new classroom or an 8-year-old boy waiting for his turn in gym what they think. They may have a much different opinion.
There’s a word in the newly released movie “Tropic Thunder” that has hurt, angered and stunned people with intellectual disabilities and those who know, love and work with them.
The R-word (retard) has long been a harsh reminder of the ridicule and negative stigma directed toward people with intellectual disabilities. The word is used 17 times in a barrage of insults in the movie “Tropic Thunder.”
The Arc of North Carolina, Special Olympics North Carolina and their affiliates across the state have joined together to speak out against the DreamWorks film because the film features the prominent use of the R-word and portrays people with intellectual disabilities in a disparaging way. When Regenia Sanders heard an audio clip from the movie, she was speechless. All she could think was “Oh my gosh.” What really astounded her was the way the actors kept layering and layering more ridicule on top of what was already being said.
Regenia and her family, including daughter Theara, moved to Cary in 1992 as part of the vast migration of IBM employees and their families to the Triangle.
Theara Sanders has been a Special Olympian since she was 8 years old. In fact, she won her first gold medal in shot put. Now 24, Theara sticks mostly to tennis.
Regenia Sanders knows “Tropic Thunder” is supposed to be a comedy and she has a sense of humor. But there’s a big difference between comedy and ridicule, she said.
“I think sometimes people take the easy road when they are trying to make a buck. It was overplayed. I didn’t see any redeeming value to it. I hope people can become more sensitive.”
Considering the fact that individuals with intellectual disabilities are four to 10 times more likely to be victims of crime than people without disabilities, there’s much work to be done to prevent abuse — including emotional abuse and bullying.
Karen Stallings, who has cerebral palsy, is the executive director of N.C. Self Advocates Association. The association trains people to become their own advocates and to establish groups in their communities.
Stallings attended a prescreening of “Tropic Thunder” with friends and colleagues and felt the movie used the stereotypes and clichés from films in the 1950s.
Karen said the movie not only demeans people with intellectual disabilities but demeans the actors themselves. She likes Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr. and thinks they are great actors. But this time they blew it.
She feels Ben Stiller didn’t do his research. If he had, he would have found that people want and deserve respect and want to give back to their community. It frustrates her because it shows that people don’t want to know people with disabilities.
In the end, this is not a matter of promoting political correctness. It isn’t about free speech and the First Amendment. It’s about whether we choose to label and humiliate people because they look, act or speak differently than we do.
The Arc of North Carolina is an affiliated chapter of The Arc of the United States. Visit arcnc.org to learn more about how The Arc of North Carolina serves children and adults with developmental disabilities and advocates for their rights.
Gayle Butzgy writes on behalf of Arc of North Carolina and Special Olympics North Carolina.
Thanks to Cary News for running this article.