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Fun Fact Friday presents: The Impact Of Little People On Big Films

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Tamara De Treaux

This week’s Fun Fact:

Opportunities for people with different physical attributes have existed for a very long time in film. This is especially true for little people. Films such as Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) and Werner Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) are two examples in which characters who are little people are at the center of the story. In most cases though, it feels as though many other actors may not get such exposure. Actor Tony Cox (from Bad Santa fame) recalls his first acting class and his teacher telling him, “’the only thing you’ll ever be in is a costume’” (Abramovitch). For Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, (1982) even though Tamara De Treaux was in the E.T. costume, she was credited under “E.T. Special Movement” with many others (“E.T.”). According to her friend Amistead Maupin, Spielberg was “explicit about not wanting Tammy to go public,” having the attitude of “the less the public knew, the greater the fantasy” (Rennert). Needless to say, when she granted interviews to Entertainment Tonight and others, “Spielberg was extremely upset” (Rennert).

– Jonathan Bartholomy, RAFF Chicago Planning Committee Member

RAFF Chicago runs from October 4-8, 2017. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!!!

If you would like to get involved with RAFF Chicago please contact us at (773) 203-5039 or email Matt Lauterbach at matt@reelabilitieschicago.org

 

Works Cited

Abramovitch, Seth. “Little People, Big Woes in Hollywood: Low Pay, Degrading Jobs and a Tragic Death.” hollywoodreporter, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/features/little-people-actors-actresses-low-pay-degrading-jobs-tragedy-922261. Accessed 15 August 2017.

“E.T. The Extra-Terrestial (1982) Full Cast & Crew.” imdb, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083866/fullcredits?ref_=tt_cl_sm#cast. Accessed 15 August 2017.

Rennert, Amy. “Behind the scenes: The Outsider.” archive, https://web.archive.org/web/20060304204018/www.literarybent.com/mtm_04_behind.html. Accessed 15 August 2017.

Film Poster

Fun Fact Friday presents: Tropic Thunder And The “R” Word

Film Poster

Tropic Thunder

Synopsis:
Ben Stiller’s satirical comedy Tropic Thunder follows the story of actors involved in the making of a fictional Vietnam War film. The self-involved nature of the three main actors Tugg Speedman, (Ben Stiller) Jeff Portnoy, (Jack Black) and Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) drive the film’s production into chaos. In an effort to straighten the situation out, the film’s inexperienced director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) flies the actors out to the middle of nowhere in the South Vietnam jungle, where they are supposed to learn how to rely on each other and be a unit. However, they soon find themselves in actual danger, having to use their acting skills to survive confrontations with Flaming Dragon, a heroin producing gang.


This week’s Fun Fact:

While some people may regard Tropic Thunder as a harmless comedy, it received a good deal of pushback from the disability community for its use of the word “retard” in one particular sequence. In this sequence of 3 minutes and 16 seconds, Lazarus and Speedman are discussing Speedman’s attempt to portray a developmentally disabled character in his previous film Happy Jack. The words retard/retarded are used 20 times in the sequence, with Lazarus advising Speedman to “never go full retard,” referencing how actors have won Academy Awards (or not) by playing characters with developmental disabilities (Stiller). The use of “the R word” (it is known as a slur in the disability community and referred to this way) caught the attention of disability rights organizations, parents, legislators, and the Special Olympics, causing protests surrounding the film and letter-writing campaigns (Haller 181-2). Interestingly, a spoof website for Happy Jack connected to the marketing of Tropic Thunder was also pulled from the web due to pressure before the film’s premiere (Carter-Long). (I actually tried to access the Simple Jack through archive.org. Sorry if this disappoints people. To my knowledge, it is unavailable.)

Thoughts:
When considering the amount of attention this film received because of this particular sequence, I am glad that it brought attention to the disability slur and how it is hurtful to people. However, I do not like how the entire situation was reduced to talking about political correctness or censorship. Lawrence Carter-Long writes about how there were efforts to get feedback from veterans and people of color with screenings before the film was released. They wanted to make sure that people didn’t think they were making fun of veterans. Since Lazarus is Robert Downey Jr. in blackface, this was also a sensitive subject to be tackling. The African American character Alpha Chino (Brandon T Jackson) is used to “[call] Lazarus on every possible point of politically correct contention” (Carter-Long). While I appreciate the efforts to make the satire work, I still connect to Carter-Long’s point that the use of disability in the film is “satirization without representation” (Carter-Long). The disability community was not consulted as other groups were for the film. Furthermore, the film does not have a character who can “call out” the problematic nature of Speedman acting as Jack in the film. It feels as though Jack is something simply to be laughed at. For me, this overshadows the point that Stiller was trying to make about actors playing people with disabilities to get an award (Carter-Long). In a way, reducing the complaints about the film to political correctness and failing to include input from the disability community almost completely ruined the film for me. It just indicates to me the lack of importance given to people with disabilities by society. Carter-Long makes the point that even though there are 54 million people with disabilities in the United States, “disability is still considered a distant threat, something that happens to people segregated to telephones and fundraising campaigns” (Carter-Long). Even nine years after the film’s release, I still feel as though there is a great deal of progress that needs to be made. I feel that it is both distressing and exhilarating at the same time.

 

– Jonathan Bartholomy, RAFF Chicago Planning Committee Member

RAFF Chicago runs from October 4-8, 2017. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!!!

If you would like to get involved with RAFF Chicago please contact us at (773) 203-5039 or email Matt Lauterbach at matt@reelabilitieschicago.org

Works Cited
Carter-Long, Lawrence. “’Tropic Thunder’ – Hollywood Still Doesn’t Get It.” archive,

http://web.archive.org/web/20120320211618/http://www.disaboom.com/movies/quottrop
ic-thunder-hollywood-still-doesnt-get-it/. Accessed 9 August 2017.
Haller, Beth A. Representing Disability in an Ableist World: Essays on Mass Media. Louisville:
The Avocado Press, 2010.
Tropic Thunder. Dir. Ben Stiller. Perf. Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr.. DVD. Dreamworks
Home Entertainment, 2008.

 

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ReelAbilities Co-Director, Reveca Torres On What It Means To Be An Activist

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RAFF Co-Director Reveca Torres

Lights, Camera, Take Action!

A few weeks ago I was invited to participate in a panel conversation with other women from Chicago doing great work in our communities. At one point the moderator asked each of us, “Do you consider yourself an activist?” I was at the end of the table so was the last to answer this question. The other women before me were hesitant to call themselves an activist even though their work said otherwise. I must admit I have been hesitant to call myself an activist as well. I guess I have this image of people protesting or demonstrations and I am often not physically present at events like these, not because I don’t want to but sometimes access or energy levels don’t allow me to. So maybe I feel a fraud or like I am not doing enough?

As the other woman were talking I started thinking about the work I do as founder and director of an organization serving people with disabilities and as an artist using my work for social change… yes, it can be considered a form of activism. After all, activism means to take action for social change, doesn’t it? I feel that a person that is active in their community and creating change is an activist – even if sometimes we feel we aren’t doing enough. So in that moment I decided to own the word activist and when it came my turn to answer I confidently said, YES.

In the state of our country the future of people with disabilities sometimes seems uncertain.  Many people have stepped up to take action and not allow the undoing of many years of effort and fighting for disability rights. People are speaking out and their activism does not have to look a certain way. It can mean that you are out there protesting and marching, you can write a letter to your legislators or meet with them in person, you can create some arts for social change, you can sit down and talk to someone who is different from you and commit to be an ally, others have shared their story via a video on social media, and so many other ways that people are getting involved.

I am happy to announce that our theme for ReelAbilities Film Festival Chicago 2017 will be Lights, Camera, Take Action! My goal is that people come and watch fantastic films with great storylines and will leave the theater having been challenged in thought and motivated to take action in the community. Some may act by becoming involved with a local organization and others through individual acts or personal development.

I invite you to join us this October for a few days of excellent programming and as you watch a film I hope your mind is thinking “What will I do to make a positive change in my community?”

Come support ReelAbilities Film Festival Chicago at STATE restaurant for a fundraiser filled with Trivia, food, and drinks!

We are selling $20 wristbands in order to raise money for RAFF. When you arrive to STATE wearing a wristband, you will be given a $10 giftcard to STATE restaurant to use at a later date.

Purchase your tickets here!!!

Film Fact Friday presents: “Million Dollar Baby”

Synopsis:
Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby (2004) mainly follows the relationship between Maggie Fitzgerald (Hillary Swank) and her trainer Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood). Fitzgerald wishes to become a professional boxer, hanging around Dunn’s gym. After finally convincing Dunn to train her, she progresses and moves up the ranks. Both Fitzgerald and Dunn seem to comfort each other, with Fitzgerald coming from a poor and selfish family and Dunn being estranged from his daughter. Fitzgerald’s success is cut short when she becomes a quadriplegic after taking a cheap shot by her opponent in a championship fight. After Fitzgerald pleads with him to do so, Dunn assists her in dying by disconnecting her ventilator and injecting her with a shot of adrenaline.

This week’s Fun Fact:

On the one hand, this film is considered a financial and critical “success” due to grossing $216 million worldwide after having a $30 million budget and winning multiple awards (“Million Dollar Baby”). On the other hand, the film drew the ire of disability rights activists and Disability Studies scholars. One of the most prominent organizations that played a role in the protests surrounding the film was Not Dead Yet, “a national, grassroots disability rights group that opposes legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia as deadly forms of discrimination against old, ill and disabled people” (“Who”). Some of the complaints surrounding the movie included the points that “the portrayal of rehabilitation and consequences of spinal cord injury were unrealistic” and “the fact that Maggie had the right to have her vent turned off was ignored” in the film (“Answering”). Aside from making these points and others, there was also a protest at an event hosted by the Chicago Film Critics Association in January 2005, which received a good deal of media attention. Unfortunately, some of this work surrounding a disability perspective was pushed out of the spotlight by larger forces in the media (“Answering”).

Thoughts:
The film Million Dollar Baby is always a tough one for me. I was a junior in college when it was in theaters. The film itself was not on my radar. However, I do remember the court case revolving around Terri Schiavo and the intense activism that existed on both sides of the issue. I also recall people bringing up the film. For some reason, I was just staying away from it.

When I was working on a project surrounding the film a few years later, I came to really appreciate the impact of everything that was going on at that time. By that point, I had completely forgotten about how the Schiavo case had overlapped with the movie itself, recognizing what an intense time this was, especially for disability rights activists. Looking back at it, I see it as a very important point of development in my own disability activism, even if I did keep my distance at that point. I continue to see how such efforts surrounding disability awareness continue to this day, going beyond any film.

– Jonathan Bartholomy, RAFF Chicago Planning Committee Member

RAFF Chicago runs from October 4-8, 2017. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!!!

If you would like to get involved with RAFF Chicago please contact us at (773) 203-5039 or email Matt Lauterbach at matt@reelabilitieschicago.org

Works Cited

Drake, Stephen. “Answering Some of Roger Ebert’s (and Kevorkian’s) Fans.” notdeadyet,

http://notdeadyet.org/2011/07/answering-some-of-roger-eberts-and.html.

Accessed 2 August 2017.

“Million Dollar Baby.” boxofficemojo,

http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=milliondollarbaby.htm. Accessed

2 August 2017.
“Who We Are.” notdeadyet, http://notdeadyet.org/about. Accessed 2 August 2017.