Studio defends 'Tropic Thunder' amid protests

LOS ANGELES: Despite protests from groups representing people with disabilities, DreamWorks, the studio behind Ben Stiller's latest film Tropic Thunder, is not apologizing.

LOS ANGELES: Despite protests from groups representing people with disabilities, DreamWorks, the studio behind Ben Stiller's latest film Tropic Thunder, is not apologizing.

“It's the nature of an R-rated comedy to push boundaries,” said Chip Sullivan, head of publicity for DreamWorks, which is owned by Paramount Pictures. “We had an extensive screening program since April. We [got] our first call [about this] August 2.”

The protests, which began August 11 at screenings and premieres, stem from Simple Jack, a film-within-the-film in which Stiller's character, an actor, portrays an intellectually disabled person. One scene features the repeated use of the word “retard.” A fake Web site and poster promoting Simple Jack were used in marketing materials, but were taken down.

Groups behind the protests, though, say DreamWorks' response is not enough.

“Hiding behind the fact that it is an R-rated comedy doesn't work,” said Andrew Imparato, president and CEO of The American Association of People with Disabilities. “We see [the use of the word ‘retard'] as offensive hate speech.”

The groups are using this increased media coverage to draw attention to an ongoing effort to encourage people to stop using the word “retard.”

“[One goal of the protests] is, we hope, to be the start in trying to get people to not say the word,” said Peter Wheeler, the chief communications officer for the Special Olympics, another group in the coalition. The Special Olympics is working with Ogilvy PR on media relations.

“Sometimes a controversy results in action, and that's what we're trying to do,” he added. “Maybe something good can come out of it.”

Protests have happened in New York, Atlanta, Washington, and Chicago, and the groups spread the word via Web sites like R-Word.org. Supporters have also used social networking sites, including a Facebook group called Tropic Blunder, Stop the Thunder, which had over 1,400 members on August 14, to get the message out, added Wheeler.

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