Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Words from the Heart

Advocating for people with intellectual disabilities was such a passion for Annette. It is also something Tom, I and so many others care passionately about. The following letter was written by an online friend of Annette's, Amy, mother of Emma. I have copied it here with her permission. I know Annette would have been appalled by this movie and would speak loud and clear about it. Thanks, Amy, for letting me use your voice here ~Lisa

Wednesday, August 13 is the release date of the movie “Tropic Thunder.” The film is expected to be a summer blockbuster, and features Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., and Jack Black as self-absorbed actors filming a big budget war movie on location. Through a series of freak occurrences, they are forced to become the soldiers they are playing. Stiller’s character is a fading action star who failed in his bid for an Oscar as “Simple Jack,” a man with an intellectual disability. “Simple Jack” is featured as a film-within-a-film, with Stiller sporting a classic institutional bowl cut and bad teeth.

This film is meant to be a satire about actors and the entertainment industry, but the result is far more sobering. The damage the film will do to people with intellectual disabilities and their families is immeasurable. The word “retard,” considered hate speech by disability rights advocates, is used frequently in the film. “Simple Jack” is described as a “retard,” and until recent objections, marketing materials and a website featured the tagline, “Once upon a time…There was a retard.” Scenes include Robert Downey Jr.’s character advising Stiller’s character to “never go full retard.” This phrase is already available on a t-shirt on the Internet.

A coalition of advocacy organizations has met with DreamWorks and Paramount executives in an effort to educate them about how extremely offensive this word is. Although the companies removed offensive marketing materials, they fail to understand the impact of their decisions. Advocates have been told they are overreacting, that the intention is not to make fun of people with intellectual disabilities, that other groups are made fun of as well. As usual, they’ve been told that it’s just a word, and words have no power.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. The words we say define who we are, and define how others see us. Words that denigrate and dehumanize an entire segment of the population have far-reaching effects. People with intellectual disabilities are routinely targeted for ridicule, abuse and violence, all because of how a word defines them. What starts with hateful words ends with hateful violence, and that should not be accepted in our society.

Films like “Tropic Thunder” not only foster a negative stereotype, they tell young people that it’s okay to belittle others, especially those who can’t defend themselves. I have a child with an intellectual disability, and in a few weeks, I will be sending her back to school, along with millions of other parents of children with disabilities. The hallways have never been exactly welcoming of those with differences, and many of us are already cringing at the thought of our kids enduring “full retard” remarks.

I call on parents, schools and teachers to make sure this doesn’t happen. Avoid “Tropic Thunder”. Banish the word “retard” as hate speech in your homes and schools. Educate people about why this word is so offensive. Don’t allow my charming, funny, and yes – smart – child, and others like her, to be targeted.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

And We're Back...

We have returned from our two weeks at the cottage. Sun, sand, rain, friends. Good for the heart and soul.
The first week we spent with our friends. We had seven cottages filled with friends. The 17 kids had a great time together playing, boating, tubing, swimming and making s'mores.

The second week Tom and the boys, Dad and Menny and another couple that are longtime friends of theirs came up. Steve's parents also came for 3 days.
I have to admit I have been dreading this week since the registration form came in January. I would have liked to skip this week if I could. Last year was difficult as we adjusted to Mom not being there. This year, I knew it would be even more difficult to experience that again, plus the huge hole of Annette's absence. It was a week full of difficult moments of missing and remembering, thinking back on past years both wonderful (when the kids were younger and everyone was healthy) to harder summers (last year and the year before, when health issues were paramount for Mom and Annette). I think we all had our own moments this week.

BUT we move on. It is especially important for the kids I think, to have this very fun and special part of their childhood continue. Kurtis said at one point, "I just love, love, love the cottage!" And that made it all worth it.

We also had a lot of fun the second week, tubing, fishing, playing, building sandcastles, reading, eating s'mores. The kids learned the game of (Spongebob) Monopoly and became obsessed by it (the game lasted most of the week!) It was good to be together as a family and enjoy each other and God's wonderful creation!