In today’s Washington Post, Tim Shriver joined the growing chorus of voices asking for a boycott of Dream Works anticipated blockbuster Tropic Thunder, “I hope others will join me in shutting this movie out of our lives and our pocketbooks. We don’t live in times when labeling and humiliating others is funny. And we should send that message far and wide.”Shriver’s willingness to criticize the film industry is more telling considering that he has close ties to the business including being co-producer of another Dreamworks film Armistad.
The controversy is simple, on August 13, 2008 DreamWorks will release what is expected to be a huge blockbuster action-comedy film that satirizes hollywood. The film cost in excess of $100 million to produce. This movie, however, is considered by advocates for people with intellectual disabilities to be laced with hate speech and images. After widespread protest, DreamWorks altered the advertising campaign but not the film itself.
Dreamworks defends the film saying the attitudes expressed are not the values of the writers or actors but of the characters, who are being portrayed as ridiculous parodies. They prefer to see the film as “irreverent” rather than a vehicle for hate propaganda. Of course, the possibility that some people who see the film might view it differently , the grim reality that some people will use the device of the the over-the-top characters to allow them to laugh at vulnerable people without facing their own prejudices, and the likelihood that a few people will respond by bullying people with disabilities or committing hate crimes is not their responsibility.
According to the New York Times,
Mr. Shriver said that he had spoken with Ms. Snider and others at DreamWorks about “Tropic Thunder” and came away convinced that they had no plans for mitigating measures.
Their response, he said, convinced him that the time had come for his group and others to strike a far more aggressive public posture on behalf of the disabled. “The movement needs to enter the public eye and not just be talking among ourselves,” he said.
Early Reviews of the film are generally quite positive. Reviewers have sometimes acknowledged a sense of guilt in laughing at some the “humor,” but not so much as to be critical of its presence. For example, from Ryan Keefer’s Cinema Verdict Review.
Much of the film’s jokes and dialogue are on the guilty laugh / cringeworthy side. When discussing Speedman’s failure with the film Simple Jack, Lazarus says that the failure of the role was because he didn’t temper his character’s mental deficiencies, using a funny yet oddly logical argument that puts Rain Man and I Am Sam in some context.
In some people’s minds this will be viewed as just a little irreverent fun and anyone who complains will be branded as an enemy of free speech and advocate for political correctness. After all, why should a little more pain and suffering brought to vulnerable people stand in the way of big stars like Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Tom Cruise, and Katie Holmes having a little good fun and making a lot more money.
It will be interesting to see the backlash created for the call for a boycott. Of course, I don’t think that the promoters of the film will say much because they are such strong advocates for free expression and enemies of political correctness. Why would they want to silence anyone else’s free expression?
For more information see:
New York Times, Nationwide ‘Thunder’ Boycott in the Works