Published: Sep 03, 2008 05:49 AM
Modified: Sep 03, 2008 05:49 AM
A movie now in theaters uses language and has a portrayal that is very hurtful to people with intellectual disabilities. Honestly the majority of us are nothing like that at all. It's really quite insulting.
A lot of advocacy groups for people with disabilities are boycotting the movie, "Tropic Thunder," because it rebuilds all the negative stigma that we as individuals and groups have spent years trying to break down.
What really can be so entertaining about watching an actor playing a character with disabilities act like he has the humor and abilities of a 5-year-old child? It's really very sad. I've known sweet good-hearted people who, because of their disabilities, will never be able to be independent. They will always need a family, a group home or staff people to protect and care for them. Even simple decisions and life tasks frustrate or frighten them. It's anything but an easy life. It can lead to depression and serious social anxiety.
Nobody likes to be called a retard. As far as I'm concerned it's worse than a cuss word. (I'd take b---- over that any day.) To be mentally retarded is a very specific diagnosis. It means a person with an IQ score of under 70. Many people who have intellectual disabilities actually have genius IQs; we just don't always know how to focus it. Many of us therefore develop a special talent such as music, writing or other arts. I have one friend who writes brilliant haikus and then she and her personal aid stamp them onto beads and make them into beautiful bracelets. I have two haiku loops and treasure them dearly.
I'm sure many of you already know it really does hurt to be stuck under a label. I think most of us have gone through it in our lives. Skin colors, financial level. Even very pretty people get hit with it. I've known people who because they are drop dead gorgeous are considered bubbleheads. That's frankly another stigma built by some celebrities behaving without thinking.
I grew up with an entire school calling me "Mental Megan" for three straight years. I got this unfortunate nickname because I was the only girl in a special ed class of about 12 boys. It made me resent my peers and hate school. It's not a pretty picture is it?
I suppose some would say, "Oh, but they were just kids; surely you've outgrown it." True, nobody slings rocks and garbage at me anymore, but the fact is the R word has become such common slang that people don't even think before they use it. I've known people who use it on themselves "I've forgotten my sunglasses, I'm such a retard" or others "that retard just cut me off!" It's common slang in high school too.
I've even heard it from professional people who ought to know better. One woman I heard say it was embarrassed to be called on her blunder. She apologized but it shows how easily that term can be slipped into the vocabulary of people who should know better.
You of course have every right to go to any movie you choose. So do I. However I do ask if you choose to see movies that put disabled people in an unfavorable light that you remember out here we're real people. We have real feelings that get hurt and don't like casual slang thrown at us just because some celebrities think it's funny.
Megan Jones lives in Carrboro. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org