In light of the recent backlash from advocates of and people with intellectual disabilities about the R-word (retarded) and the derogatory slang “Downsy” being used in a scene of Universal Pictures’ new movie, “The Change-Up,” I’ve come to a conclusion: Universal Pictures thinks bigotry is both acceptable, and marketable.
The movie, released August 5th was panned by critics and flopped at the box office. Yet many who did go to see it were shocked and angered by an early scene in the movie where Ryan Reynolds’ character asked Jason Bateman’s character if his young twins were “retarded” because they weren’t speaking, and then quipped “I don’t know, this one looks a little Downsy.”
By Monday morning I had seen many Facebook posts by my friends that had either seen the movie or had been told of the scene by someone who had, and all of them reacted with a mix of shock, anger, disgust and sadness.
The sad truth however is this shouldn’t shock our community. Even sadder, it should definitely not shock us that this movie came from Universal Pictures, a movie distributor with a history of marketing bigotry for laughs. It was less than a year ago that the Vince Vaughn comedy “The Dilemma” (distributed by Universal Pictures) was blasted in the Gay and Lesbian community for using the word “gay” not just as a joke in the movie, but as part of the trailer to market the movie.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper led the public outrage on his own “Anderson Cooper 360” show as part of a week long series on bullying, and continued to speak out when he told Ellen DeGeneres on Ellen that the joke was inappropriate and said, “We’ve got to do something to make those words unacceptable.”
With a brand name like Cooper out in front, and the advocacy muscle of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) community, Universal agreed to pull the trailer and release a new version without the word “gay” though they did not pull it from the movie.
I bring up this comparison for three reasons:
- To encourage all the friends, family members, self-advocates and anyone else who thinks that people with intellectual disabilities deserve to be respected and included in society, to keep speaking out. Keep calling Universal and the producers and writers of “The Change-Up.”
- To challenge you to an exercise. Go to this page and replace the word “gay” with “retarded” and I dare you to find one part that doesn’t transcend. Then keep asking yourself, “Why is the outcry for one injustice heard so much louder than another? And what am I willing to do about it?”
- To challenge Universal Pictures to react with a minimum of the same urgency and corrective action shown for “The Dilemma” plus an added demonstration to show they’ve learned a lesson. Apologize. Pull the movie from theaters. Edit the scene. Re-release the movie if you so choose, without the scene. Commit to use your influence and reach to educate your audiences about inclusion, tolerance and acceptance of all people. Help us spread the word that words matter, that language absolutely reflects attitude, and then back those words up by demonstrating in your entertainment distribution that laughs do not have to come at the cost of anyone’s human dignity.
As of this writing, Universal Pictures’ only response to our community’s outcry has been suppression. Yesterday, advocates plastered both the Universal Pictures Facebook page and The Change-Up’s Facebook page with messages that the R-word is not a punchline, and with calls to action to remove the word from the movie and promote the abilities of people with special needs. As of late Monday night, both Facebook pages removed the ability for fans to comment on each respective wall, thereby suppressing the voice of our community. The Universal Pictures page even went so far as to change their main page picture from The Change-Up promotional poster to a generic logo and removed a post on their page promoting the movie in which the majority of comments were from our community.
It’s the social web equivalent of shutting us in the basement in shame and humiliation, for fear that others may find out that we exist, and that our existence makes them look bad.
Too bad for Universal Pictures, this isn’t the 1960s. Basement doors were opened long ago thanks to courageous leaders like Loretta Claiborne, Ricardo Thornton, Eddie Barbanell and millions of Special Olympics athletes and others with intellectual disabilities who show the world every day that our community is not just one that is content to exist, but one that is ready, able and willing to lead the fight for justice and inclusion.
I hope you’ll join me and the millions of Special Olympics athletes who fight for inclusion every day by continuing to insist that our community’s voice is heard. You can still post on the Universal and The Change-Up Facebook pages and comment on their posts (unless they delete those too). You can continue to tweet (see below), you can share the link for this blog post (https://specialolympicsblog.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/universal-pictures-thinks-biggotry-is-acceptable-and-marketable) and this article (http://www.r-word.org/r-word-The-Change-Up-Universal-Studios.aspx) on the www.r-word.org website to drive people to action, and you can call and email Universal Pictures to have your voice heard (see below).
Keep fighting. I know I will, because when I watch the courage our athletes display everyday to be respected and included, the only question I ask myself is – How can I not?
Tweeting for respect? Copy and paste these:
. @UniversalPics The #Rword is no punchline. Remove it from #TheChangeUp & promote abilities of people w/ special needs. Pledge http://www.r-word.org
. @UniversalPics Why are you suppressing our voice? Remove #Rword from #TheChangeUp & respect all human dignity. http://j.mp/oEIPKP
. @UniversalPics thinks bigotry is acceptable. I think they are wrong. Help me remove the #Rword from #TheChangeUp. http://j.mp/oEIPKP
Want to call or email to demand respect? Here’s who to contact:
Main Line of Universal to call and ask for contacts below:
President of Distribution
Chairman, Universal Pictures
Here are some other blogs about this to read (and share!):
“Just a Word: The Change-Up Edition” from Fighting Monsters with Rubber Swords
“Help Wanted: Screenwriters with Common Deceny” from Missfancypants’s World
“The Change-Up Gets Thumbs Down for Disability Slurs” from About.com Guide to Parenting Special Needs
“A New Movie Makes Fun of Kids with Special Needs. Any of You Think That’s Funny?” from To the Max at Parents.com
“Take a Stand” from Something Extra Equals Extraordinary Blessings
“Pushing for Change!” from Our Little Chilli Tribe
“The Change-Up” from A is for Aiden
“Stop Disability Slurs! The Change-Up” from The Chronicles of Ellie Bellie Bear
“The Change Up” from Nuts about Nathan
“It’s Only the R-word” from Gathers No Moss
“Cowards: ‘The Change-Up’ and Disability Slurs” from Bringing the Sunshine