Once Upon A Time There Was A Retard….

Special Needs-468x60-1

Such is the tag line to a new, big budget, R-rated summer movie opening this week. “Tropic Thunder” is a comedy produced by DreamWorks/Paramount, and directed and written by Ben Stiller, who also stars in the movie.

The plot includes a group of pampered actors, lost in the jungle while making a war movie. Tugg Speedman, Ben Stiller’s character, is a fading action hero who missed his Oscar opportunity with his portrayal of Simple, a character with an intellectual disability. Speedman’s portrayal of Simple is a movie within the movie, “Simple Jack.”

Already “Tropic Thunder” has presented audiences with a new go to phrase, “Never Go Full Retard.

And for much less than the cost of a session with one of my son’s therapists, you can purchase a t-shirt declaring to the world that you are a Full Retard.

Charming, no?

The term ‘retard’ is nothing short of hate speech. The word piles insult and even possible harm on a group of people who already find it hard, if not impossible, to integrate into a society that values perfection above all else.

Of course DreamWorks and Stiller are trying to deflect the idea that “Tropic Thunder” is anything more than a comic satire intended to put down actors, not persons with disabilities.

There will be those who will be entertained for an hour or so with “Tropic Thunder”. There will be those that find wearing a t-shirt shouting the words “Full Retard” hysterical. Like Stiller, they will express their disbelief at how the word retard could offend anyone.


Each person who makes the choice to go and see “Tropic Thunder” helps promote the idea that hurting others for the sake of a laugh is okay. I humbly submit that the world is cruel enough. The damage caused by “Tropic Thunder” will last much longer than the movie’s 90 minute viewing time.

The use of the word ‘retard’ is setting how society views those with intellectual disabilities back a generation. Recently the announcement of a new early method of pre-natal testing for fetal Down syndrome was made. This announcement was made with great fanfare and excitement. Because the earlier parents know their child may be born with an intellectual disability, the earlier and easier it becomes to terminate that pregnancy. I believe the connotations that go along with the word ‘retard’ play no small part in this kind of thinking.

At the very least, ‘Tropic Thunder’ will make it much easier to cross the line of verbal abuse so often expressed toward individuals with intellectual disabilities

Unfortunately the only way to get this message across to Mr. Stiller and friends is to wake them up where it matters most……their egos and pocketbooks. Refusing to see this movie will address both of those issues.

I hope you will be willing to stand up for kids like my son, Parker, and for all of the others who live life with an intellectual disability.

My son spends enough time fighting for his life. He shouldn’t have to fight for acceptance in this world as well.

Together we can make a difference.

Please refuse to see this movie and ask your family and friends to also boycott this film.

To learn more and discover how you can make a difference, please visit these links:

“Tropic Thunder” Boycott Expected

What “Tropic Thunder” Thinks Is Funny

Nationwide Thunder Boycott in the Works

Advocates for disabled to boycott “Tropic Thunder”

The Arc: Action Alert

Insensitive Hollywood People Thought It Felt Right to Use Hate Words Against People Living with Disabilities

Addresses to write to:

100 Universal City Plaza, Bldg. 5121, Universal City, CA 91608

5555 Melrose Ave., Ball/Lasky Bldgs., Los Angeles, CA 90038

Ben Stiller, Writer/Director/Producer
Read Hour Films, 629 N. La Brea, Los Angeles, CA 90036


  1. says

    When I read the first part of the post, before I got to your opinion and your point, I was shocked! That is most definitely hate speech, and I will NOT be seeing this movie. I hope it flops at the box office. I have friends with children who have special needs, and I can’t imagine how something like this hurts and perpetuates stereotypes.

  2. says

    Very, very well said! As another parent of a child with Down syndrome, just hearing the word “retard” sends chills down my spine. I can’t stand the word and whenever I hear anyone say it, it feels like I’ve been stabbed in the back. Knowing that a friend or family member going to see this movie, would do the same thing. PLEASE BOYCOTT THIS MOVIE!

  3. says

    That sounds like such an awful movie. I was shocked by the title to this post before I read what it was about. The sad thing is, there are going to be people out there who think that is funny.

  4. says

    I’m so sorry that there are people who are so completely insensitive and unaware of the affects their words and actions can have on others. When I read your post, my heart ached for you and your beautiful little boy.

  5. Lisa - Lily's mom says

    Tammy – thanks for writing this – it is great!

    I am posting a couple of links below. One is for information on how to receive the new cards that Dave Hingsburger created. They are willing to ship them out, I believe free of charge.


    And one to the online petition:


    And also another link to Steve Gorelick’s site:


    We all have to keep this up and going – we need to make a difference!

    Thanks again!


  6. says

    I will write them and I WILL boycott that movie. Oh Tammy, this has me in tears. Such a hurtful word. Nothing funny about it. How ignorant of people to think they can use these types of words like they mean nothing.

    I feel the same way when people use words that are hurtful to the mentally ill community. I’m much more aware of the words I use and the words people use around me the older I get and retard (oh I hate to even write it) is one that makes me cringe!

    :–) Nell

  7. says

    Oh I HATE, HATE, HATE that word :( It makes my skin crawl anytime I hear it or see it.

    No worries – we definitely won’t be seeing that movie.

  8. says

    I think it is especially SOOOOO important that we tell the men and teenage boys in our lives to NOT see this movie.

    The target market for this vulgar film is men and teenage boys and so we need to make an extra effort to tell all the men and teenage boys to BOYCOTT!!!

  9. says

    The more I read about it the more I wonder what what WHAT was going through the brains of Ben Stiller as he wrote the script, Dreamworks when they produced it and the other actors when they agreed to act in it. Does nobody have any morals anymore???

  10. says

    Well said Tammy. What is so hurtful and amazing to me is that Brady absolutely adores the movie Madagascar – of which Ben Stiller plays Alex the Lion – the main character. Brady loves this movie so much, it gets a lot of abuse and we’ve purchased a couple of copies already, and we’re planning on seeing the sequel. How do I tell my little boy that we can’t go see the sequel because the actor who plays the voice of one of his favorite characters thinks it’s funny to abuse some of the people in our society who are the most vulnerable? How can I tell him we can’t go see this movie that he laughs and giggles and points and smiles and talks about when we see previews at other movies? If Ben Stiller made the same kind of comments in racial or religious slurs, I’m pretty sure this movie would never have made it to film.

    Thanks for sharing this with the blogging world, and we, for sure will be boycotting this film!!!

  11. says

    Oh how cheap are “they”, makers of films and tv shows like these. I think they’re just hating themselves and referring those hateful words to themselves. And to hate oneself is the worse kind of self punishment and self portrayal. Instead of maturing as they get older, they’re just going backwards, aren’t they.

    Thank you for sharing about the boycott.

  12. says

    Oh this really got me choked up. I hate that it even has to be an issue. I will never forget how emotional I was when we took Noah to see his very first movie in a theatre (Racing Stripes) and early on in the movie one of the characters jokes about a horse running badly that “it looked like he was having a seizure” – I am sure my son, who has epilepsy, didn’t even catch that, but I sure did and it stung me to my core. I did write a letter and did what I could do to express my concern about such a line in a kids’ movie. I really do think that us taking action is way better than doing nothing at all.


  13. Lisa - Lily's mom says

    Thanks Tammy for writing this!

    Here is the link for the Online Petition to Boycott this pathetic movie!


  14. Cathy says

    Thanks for helping to bring this into the light Tammy. What a sad statement on our society that it needs to even be addressed.


  15. says

    What I am disappointed in is that I used to like Ben Stiller. I’ve now lost all respect for him and really can’t believe he would be the kind of person that would write, direct AND produce a move like this. What a shame.

  16. says

    Well, this made me cry. I have a severely developmentally disabled child and I find totally offensive! Thank you for your well written words and for this information. I will be directing people from my blog here and asking them to be supportive. Thank you!!!

  17. Sandra McElwee says

    I counsel parents who are pregnant and have a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. The first thing they ask me is if kids are cruel to my son…this movie will tell them that EVERYONE is cruel to people with intellectual disabilities…and that is really not the truth…but it will give the teen age boys permission to bully and berate and that is more painful than imaginable.

  18. says

    Thank you Tammy for bringing all of this information together and getting the word out. I was talking with some friends at work about this today and will definitely be posting about it as well. Just when we think we’re making progress…

  19. says

    Nothing pushes my buttons like making fun of the disabled. Even before I had a child with a disability I didn’t tolerate this kind of stuff. I really think Hollywood has crossed a line with this one. Unfortunately it’s sending a very loud message that this is acceptable.

  20. says

    To mock those with disabilities is inexcusable. To cloak it in ‘satire’ in an attempt to cover what it is is even more so. I will be actively boycotting this film and so will all of my family.

    I have never thought Ben Stiller was funny. His actions with this film show him as an uninformed, uncaring, and insenstive individual. He owes the disabled community a HUGE apology.

  21. Sharon says

    There is no way anyone in my family will be seeing this movie! Anybody that thinks that that word doesn’t hurt or doesn’t influence peoples’ opinions about someone should walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. In fact, the experiments with well-known, very attractive individuals getting “made into” obese individuals is a good example. I can’t tell you how many times my son has had to endure people saying, “You’ll never be able to do that” simply because he has Down Syndrome and is cognitively delayed. Fortunately, he has proven the nay sayers wrong, but it is their mindset that is the barrier.

  22. Jack Dean says

    We all feel outraged, sad and hurt by this minor talent Ben Stiller. His mother and father Jerry Stiller and Anne Merea should be ashamed of how their son uses the special needs community as the brunt of some sophmoric film aimed at adolescent boys. That’s about his speed. Don Imus was thrown off the air for similar remarks and all we get is warmed over boiler plate, half hearted ” we’ll be more sensitive next time” baloney. Where is Al Sharpton when you need him. Boycott the movie, write your newspapers, call Ben Stiller and let them all know this won’t be tolerated.

  23. says

    Tammy, I had to leave my kuddos to this post here as well! Your doing fantastic girl! Keep up the good work! I hope this movie Bombs at the box office!

  24. says

    Thank you so much for this. I had not seen any information on this aspect of the movie. I had previously thought it looked really good and wanted to see it. Needless to say, I will not be seeing it now. I have passed this post on to as many people as I can. Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention. This is an issue near and dear to my heart.

  25. says

    WOW I had no idea I have not even heard of this movie but I will be standing strong with you – as well as not seeing THIS movie I will not be seeing any produced though them UGH :(

  26. says

    This is so sad. How such influential actors can support this is beyond me. As far as I know, you have only one ride in this world, and you should make it a good one.

  27. says

    I am so with you on this on. This is the first I have heard of it. Wow My daughter could be facing teasing and more stress with this type of thing upcoming May the t shirt printers fail.

  28. says

    Thank you, Tammy, for writing this.

    The responses I have read here from moms of mainstream children are healing and give me hope for the little ones who will grow up with their sons and daughters.

    I remember the first time I saw my son flinch when he heard the hate language used in the film – I did not realize he had ever heard the word before then. His older sister started sizing people up at an early age when hearing how her peers spoke of children with developmental disabilities – sometimes when they knew her brother’s challenges.

    My son has seen the TV ads for Tropic Thunder with some of his favorite actors in it, and was looking forward to seeing it this weekend with his girlfriend – it would have been their third date. I had to explain that there are scenes in the movie that they do not show in the TV ads that are very insulting to people with learning challenges, and that they use that “R” word that bullies use meanly on purpose and other people use without thinking that it hurts.

    I wonder how many people with developmental disabilities will go to this movie not expecting to be subjected to hate language and demeaning scenes and comments. Families of mainstream kids will also have no clue from the previews that scenes demeaning scenes to children and adults with disabilities are included.

    I’ve heard that one of the Simple Jack scenes concerns the character’s reaction at his dying mother’s bedside, and another has a father making a cutting comment about being stuck with his disabled son.

    It breaks my heart to think that in 2008 we have such horrible new ‘catch phrases’ to make moms of newly diagnosed babies, toddlers and kindergartners miserable. I have to keep in mind that so many people in our community are sensitive and welcoming to my son and are horrified to hear about this movie.

    Reading comments defending the ‘free speech’ and artistic or comedic value of presenting such images and language are worse than thinking about the movie’s legacy.

    The world seemed difficult enough before this movie came around.

    Thanks again for your sweet words in defense of all our children, and for posting them in a place that is a supportive and comforting community for all of us moms.

    Thoughts from the Middle of the Night

  29. says

    Well said, Tammy, I am blogging about this horrible film as well. The most disturbing aspect for me was that it was shown in previews from coast to coast, and NO ONE mentioned the offense against the intellectually disabled until quite recently.
    What’s wrong with people who can’t see this is offending the innnocent?!

  30. says

    For all the progress we’ve made in stopping the derogatory use of the term “retard” Hollywood steps in and in one swoop knocks us all back to square one. I think Hollywood needs to get out of LA and check out the real world. This seriously needs to be banned. Petition signed.

  31. Jackie says

    I got chills and tears in my eyes while reading this. Thank you for helping us all remember that we should not tolerate intolerence and ignorance. I will be visiting the links and leaving a piece of my mind. Especially in a world where bullying is so prevelant, I am completely disgusted at their lack and sensitvity. How dare they?

  32. says

    Thank you, Tammy, for bringing this to our attention. It brought tears to my eyes, but as mothers we can stand up together and say no to this kind of hate.

  33. Patty says

    Thanks, Tammy, for making us all aware of this film – my kids love Madagascar, and I feel sick that Ben Stiller would be a part of such a hateful project. My youngest has Down Syndrome, and to hear these insults make me cringe, it won’t be long until she will too. But hopefully, if we stay together, we will make a difference.

  34. says

    Tammy, I just read about this yesterday on CNN. Your post made me cry and you are completely right! This world is hard enough without people jumping on a bandwagon like this one!
    Of course all the actors are standing by the movie and I think they were bracing for harsh reactions from equal rights activists because of Robert Downey Jr’s character dyeing himself black. I think they were blown away by reactions from groups such as the Special Olympics and The Down Syndrome Association. But still they stand by it, it really makes me sick!
    I will not be seeing this movie! Thanks for the great post!

  35. says

    I am jumping on the bandwagon with this one. As a coach for Special Olympic athletes, we are being asked to boycott this movie.

    I would like to use a link to your post in my blog.

    You have a very precious boy.


  36. says

    Thank you for explaining this so well. I have briefly looked at headlines saying why not to see this movie, I actually read yours, and I don’t intend to see it.

    Well said, thank you.

  37. says

    My nephew was born both physically and mentally handicapped. He cannot walk or talk. Everyday is a struggle for his life as well. You can bet your ass I will not see that movie. I fint it deplorable that people still use those words to get a laugh. Especially someone that uses those words to get a laugh and to make money. It’s disgusting.

    I have one sister, no other siblings. She has 3 children and I have one. Out of our 4 kids, 3 were born with some type of handicap. I have been fighting the fight for 11 years. I am an advocate for not just their rights, but anyone else who is discriminated against. Whether it be for their handicaps, their skin color, or what have you… No one deserves to be discriminated against for being who THEY ARE.

    Thank you for this post.

  38. says

    Thank-you so much for writing this! I have a son with cerebral palsy, and the ‘r-word’ deeply offends and hurts me. No one has ever used it in reference to him, but I cannot help but hear it in the context of him. You know?

    I will gladly be boycotting that movie.

    My heart breaks to hear of the new pre-natal testing. I simply cannot imagine why we (society) feel it’s necessary to prevent life. Children with disabilities are some of the most blessed, most loving, most joy-filled and innocent. I can’t imagine my life without Braeden. My doctor knows me so well that she didn’t even offer the ‘triple screen’ testing to me for my 4th and 5th pregnancies.

  39. says

    I think to many times actors do and say things without thinking of how they effect others around them. I pray that Ben Stiller never has to be faced with the challenge of having a special needs child, but if he does, I hope that he will ask all of those that he hurt to forgive him for his thoughtless words. I have many friends that work with special needs children and my heart goes out to all the parents and families of these very special & wonderful children. They have a special place in God’s heart.

  40. Hang on... says

    The character of Simple Jack isn’t an attack on those with special needs, but rather stupid actors who play condescending versions of them as a means of getting awards. If anything, you should be thanking the people who made this film for taking to task people who exploit disabilities for trophies.

  41. Jules says

    I read this post and felt the need to comment. While what they are doing in the movie can be hurtful and is a word that shouldn’t be used to demean a person – at the same time, look at some of the hate these posts have included. People have condemned Ben Stiller as a whole when this movie literally just gives a passing reference to the Simple Jack movie. The entire movie is a parody of the stupid things that actors will do to obtain a gold statuette.

    I agree that the t-shirts are ridiculous! Was the use of the phrase ‘retard’ necessary? No, they probably could have used another term but the whole point was to show how someone with disdain for the challenged will use them to try to get an award. Many actors portray mentally and physically challenged people in movies and TV. Maybe we should be asking why we consider it acceptable that they play these roles rather than use those with the real challenges?

    If you take this movie for what it was really meant to be – a complete parody on the movie industry – rather than an attack on the challenged, you’ll see that the message isn’t an attack at all.

  42. says

    and here lies part of the problem with the world today….totally insensitive people. Immune to other’s feelings, uncaring……it’s just wrong.

  43. says

    Found you via Julie’s link at Abbily Ever After.

    I’m so sorry you even have to spend time and energy fighting for this. How could the people involved in the movie not know that this is unacceptable?????

    As insignificant as it might be, two more people (my husband and I) won’t support this movie (and that is because of your post). I wasn’t aware – thanks for the warning, I would have been disgusted if I wasted my time and money seeing such crap.

  44. says

    @Jules, (this is Susan here… one of the writers here at 5 Minutes for Mom)

    Tammy and the rest of us understand very clearly that the movie intended to make fun of Hollywood actors and that “the entire movie is a parody of the stupid things that actors will do to obtain a gold statuette.”

    The problem is that while using satire to make their point about stupid actors, they used hateful language and vulgar humor to make fun of innocent people.

    The laughs are at the expense of the intellectually disabled as well as at actors. And the problem is that the intellectually disabled cannot afford to have those blows against them, whereas actors are at no risk of suffering.

  45. Chris (Nana's mom) says

    Great post as usual, Tammy. My favorite line was that Parker had to fight for life- he shouldn’t have to fight for acceptance. Amen.

  46. Sheri says

    As a mom of a DD labeled as mentally retarded, I agree that it is inappropriate, insensitive and sad that the movie and shirts were even made. I certainly will not see the movie and am disappointed in Ben Stiller, et al. Though I am not really offended by the word retard, even when used derogatorily, because I know what my child is and how amazing she is despite any disabilities she has. She will have to deal with insensitive, unaware, unintelligent people all her life, so I take every opportunity to tell her and anyone else that will listen that she is amazing (even just being alive, let alone the other things she can do). To anyone who looks down on or mocks my daughter or anyone who is mentally challenged I say – “she has a brain injury – what’s your excuse?”

    And the truth of the matter is that some will think that using that word and that plot point in that movie is funny and not making fun of the mentally challenged, because they don’t get the hurtfulness of it. They may even think, like above, that it is somehow helping the society’s view of the intellectually disabled. It is not helping – helping is respecting, accepting, loving and caring for them.

    Tammy, thank you for your post and I wish the best to you and your family, especially Parker.

  47. Joe says

    Exactly what I was afraid of the minute I learned my grandson has DS: A cruel word in many respects, insensitive and ignorant, with too many enablers of the long term misuse of the term, which I hesitate to even spell out.


  48. says

    Thank you for the addresses! I have written a letter but the websites of Dreamworks and Paramount have no place for comments or addresses to send things to. I wonder why?

  49. JJ says

    Thanks for taking a stand against this wretched movie. I have been encouraged that so many have responded positively to our protest. Yes, some
    people are clueless and prefer to remain that way, but most people can see the harm in hate speech if we help them to see the impact it has on those targeted by that speech. Please keep up the good work.

  50. Chalkie2000 says

    Wow. You really didn’t get it. Ben Stiller is not poking fun at the mentally challenged, he is poking fun at pretentious actors who would arrogantly attempt to portray a mentally challenged individual in a vain attempt to be recognized as an oscar worthy actor.

    Oh and also you must be aware that any attempt to publicly boycott this film will only result in a higher interest for it and will only serve to propel it to number one faster. Whereas if you had been able to shrug it off the film and offending word would have been forgotten much more quickly.

  51. James says

    Okay you are offended, but you do not have the right to ban any for of expression or any word. There is a reason free speech is protected by most western countries and that is if you ban even one word you set a dangerous president as you are effectively controlling an individuals right to free thought.

    You all have the right to protest your views for/against something, the right to try to educate others and the right to leave a theater if offended but NEVER the right to tell others what they are allowed to see.


  1. […] This post broke my heart tonight. I have spoken before about my love for special needs children in a previous soapbox rant. I will admit, I really wanted to see this movie. It looked funny in everything I had heard and read about it. I tend to really like Ben Stiller movies. But I will not be going. Nor will I catch it on video. I really hope you will let your conscience guide you, but consider doing the same. And consider telling others to do the same. I sent out an email to most of my address book to tell about what I had discovered even though it made me slightly uncomfortable. I really just don’t feel like I can be silent about this. If the first post didn’t seal the deal for you, I hope this one will. […]

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