An Open Letter to Ben Stiller from Disability Rights Groups

Still more Tropic Thunder outrage. The head of The Arc—the world's largest grassroots organization supporting people with intellectual and developmental abilities—is calling on Ben Stiller to have a sit down and meet with people with disabilities and their families, to help him understand why his movie offended them. They're also demanding that Stiller, Paramount and DreamWorks issue an official apology.

So, funny little trivia I found out. The Arc was originally an acronym. When it started, the organization operated under the name The Association of Retarded Children. Since expanding its function beyond children, they stopped calling themselves that.

More than 780 chapters of The Arc across the United States will be at movie theaters throughout the weekend handing out flyers condemning the word "retard" and urging people to stay away from the movie. Arya's hot tip of the day: if you don't want to be bothered by flyers, go see the movie at malls. Most malls don't allow distribution of leaflets and protests inside the premises, as it would be considered tresspassing, so they can only campaign on the parking lot.

The open letter follows:

August 14, 2008

Mr. Ben Stiller

Red Hour Films

629 North La Brea Avenue

Los Angeles, CA 90036

Dear Mr. Stiller:

I am writing on behalf of The Arc of the United States (The Arc), a
national organization that advocates for people with intellectual and
developmental disabilities. With more than 750 state and local chapters and
hundreds of thousands of employees, board members, volunteers, clients,
members, donors and supporters, we represent the world's largest
community-based organization of and for persons with intellectual and
developmental disabilities.

I am inviting you to meet with some of these people and engage in an
open and honest dialogue surrounding the offense, intentional or
unintentional, caused by your movie "Tropic Thunder." As you know, members
of The Arc and other disability rights groups assert that the movie
contains images and language that are extremely disrespectful in its
portrayal of the fictional character "Simple Jack," a person with an
intellectual disability.

In recent interviews you've said that the film is not intended to make
light of people with intellectual disabilities but is instead a satire on
actors and the industry. I've seen the movie and the use of words such as
"retard," "imbecile," and "moron" and the use of caricature in the
depiction of an individual with intellectual disabilities are simply

It is offensive to the 4-5 million people that are living with
intellectual disabilities, and the tens of millions of their parents,
siblings, family members and friends. In fact, many people in the
disability community would consider use of the "r" word in reference to a
person with an intellectual disability to be hate speech, equivalent to use
of the "n" word in reference to an African American.

I invite you to meet with a group of people with intellectual
disabilities and their families in a city of your choosing - New York,
Washington, DC, or Los Angeles. I look forward to a favorable reply.


Peter V. Berns

Executive Director

Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for