Disabilities in the Media & The Wolf of Wall Street

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Long time, no see! Sorry about that. Life’s been happening around here lately…funny how that works…

Disabilities in the Media

Have you ever been watching a movie and enjoying it, then all of a sudden a character makes an off-color remark about a vulnerable population (such as people with disabilities or mental illness) or uses the “r-word” unnecessarily? How did it change the way you viewed the film?

I find this happens to me on a regular basis. It sours my entire experience. If I am watching something at home or on TV, I’ll typically just turn the channel. However, if I’m in a movie theatre, I usually just sit through it (cringing and angry). However, I make every effort to avoid seeing movies that I know will offend me. I do this for my own sake, but also as my own boycott of the movie itself. I know that my $10.25 ticket isn’t much compared to the millions that movies make at the box office, but it is $10.25 less than they would have made.

Shouldn’t there be a method of warning moviegoers of offensive language that includes the r-word? To me, it is worse than a swear word because it affects people’s lives and perceptions of themselves or others. In my opinion, swear words kind of just hang in the air versus directly targeting a group of people. There is no excuse for using the r-word, particularly when you have such an influence over millions of people who watch you and often try to emulate what you do. That leads me to why I am choosing to address this topic now…

The Wolf of Wall Street

{I contemplated not sharing this because, as they say, “any publicity is good publicity, so long as they spell your name right”. However, I think the following statement is extremely powerful and worth sharing to avoid more hurt and heartache.}

The Arc and United Cerebral Palsy issued this statement about the Wolf of Wall Street, which was recently nominated for 5 Oscar Awards:

“The Wolf of Wall Street is getting a lot of attention for how it offends audiences on many levels, but one aspect that hasn’t been discussed is its use of the r-word and its unacceptable mockery of people with cerebral palsy.  Hollywood just doesn’t seem to get it.  More than five years after people with disabilities protested at theaters across the country against Tropic Thunder, a film which included a highly offensive portrayal of people with intellectual disabilities, the industry is still using language and jokes that hurt audience members and don’t add any value to the artistic intent or point the film is trying to make,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc. “Among moviegoers who have paid to see The Wolf of Wall Street in recent weeks are people with disabilities, their parents, siblings, and friends.  It’s time for Hollywood to wake up and see that their customers deserve better.”

“The Wolf of Wall Street’s gratuitous use of an offensive term for people with disabilities, as well as its depiction of cerebral palsy, is outrageous. For more than 60 years, UCP has been working to ensure that people with cerebral palsy and other disabilities can live their lives without limits—including equality, inclusion and respect in our society—but it is very clear that our fight is far from over,” said Stephen Bennett, President and CEO of UCP.“While we understand that the film’s content is deliberately distasteful and excessive, it does not excuse it. It is astonishing that the film’s producers, director and actors deemed this kind of language and portrayal to be acceptable—they can do better, and we urge them to.” {emphasis added}

I have not seen this movie, and clearly I do not plan to see it in the theatres or in my own home. From what I understand, one of the characters in the movie states that if his kids were r*****ed he would let them loose into the wild or institutionalize them for life. Another character goes through a “cerebral palsy phase” in the back of a car after doing a lot of drugs. The movie apparently also includes the degrading and demonizing of little people, including throwing them at wall-mounted targets while wearing Velcro suits.

I guess my biggest question is: Why? What’s the point? As the statement from the Arc and UCP point out, the use of such offensive elements in this film (as well as others) do not add any value to the artistic intent or point of the film. That leaves me to think that the reason the media continues to support the degradation of folks with disabilities is because somebody thinks it is “cool” or “funny”. Well, it’s not.

We deserve better than this. Our siblings deserve better than this.

Your Turn

  • Have you ever seen a movie, TV show, or other form of media that used the r-word? How did you respond?
  • When you are offended, do you stay or go/change the channel? Why?



2 thoughts on “Disabilities in the Media & The Wolf of Wall Street

    claire said:
    January 22, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    Thank you so much for this post, Christiana! This was the first I have heard about the Wolf of Wall Street–and I’m SO upset to hear this! Thank you for standing up for people with disabilities. I hope someday EVERYONE (not just those directly affected by special needs) will realize how offensive and hurtful these comments are. I absolutely love your blog!

      sayhelloyellow responded:
      January 27, 2014 at 8:12 pm

      Thanks, Claire! I appreciate your thoughtful comment. I, too, hope that society continues to think more about what our words mean and how they affect people. I think we are making progress, but certainly we have a long way to go.

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