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Advocates for disabled to protest "Tropic Thunder"

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Groups that advocate for the disabled called on Sunday for a national boycott of the Ben Stiller comedy “Tropic Thunder,” citing what they say is its negative portrayal of people with intellectual disabilities.

Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr. and Ben Stiller in a scene from "Tropic Thunder". REUTERS/DreamWorks Pictures

“We are asking people not to go to the movie and hope to bring a consciousness to people about using derogatory words about this population,” said Peter Wheeler, spokesman for Special Olympics, one of 22 disability groups nationwide protesting the satire.

The film, directed by Stiller, will be released on Wednesday by Viacom Inc’s Paramount Pictures and its DreamWorks unit.

The groups plan to picket the movie’s premiere on Monday evening in Los Angeles’s Westwood community.

“That will be the start of a nationwide protest,” said Wheeler. “We will continue to be vocal about the destructive effect of this film.”

He said the groups are particularly offended by the film’s repeated use of the word “retard” regarding a character, Simple Jack, played by Stiller in a subplot about an actor.

Representatives of the Special Olympics, the Arc of the United States, the National Down Syndrome Congress, the American Association of People with Disabilities and other groups met with studio executives last week to discuss the film, but DreamWorks did not make any changes.

Peter Berns, executive director the Arc, said in a memo the groups presented various ideas to the studio, from requesting an apology to fixing the film before its release, to producing a national educational campaign.

Chip Sullivan, a spokesman for DreamWorks said: “We have had productive discussions with representatives of disability advocacy organizations and look forward to working with them closely in the future. However no changes or cuts to the film will be made...

“‘Tropic Thunder’ is an R-rated comedy that satirizes Hollywood and its excesses, and makes its point by featuring inappropriate and over-the top characters in ridiculous situations. The film is in no way meant to disparage or harm the image of individuals with disabilities,” he said.

The film also features Robert Downey Jr. as a white actor who changes his skin color to play a black soldier.

Sullivan said that prior to the meetings, DreamWorks had taken down an online promotion, removing references to Simple Jack it felt could appear offensive when taken out of context.

The film was shown in more than 250 promotional screenings around the country since April.

Editing by Philip Barbara