The white actor who dons black-face is admonished by black characters in the film, but no such denouncement occurs for the other character. Instead he is told that the reason he failed to gain Oscar success, unlike previous actors who portrayed disabled characters, is that he went too far with the character. The line used at this point has already gained notoriety and T-shirt slogan status.
In flicking about I found this interview on Entertainment Weekly with the actors:
The challenge with that character was to find the right line. You want to make fun of this pompous actor, but if you play it wrong, it verges on being minstrel-like. Your costar Brandon T. Jackson told me there was a scene in the script where Osiris uses the N-word and that he said it went over the line.So the black actor advised them on what was going "over the line" on what "feels wrong" but they never thought to consult with disabled people about what might cross lines or feel wrong in their use of "retard" or the many examples of insensitive dialogue and portrayals detailed here.
ROBERT DOWNEY JR.: Brandon might have saved the movie that day.
BEN STILLER: For sure. We were rehearsing in Hawaii and we got to that scene and I said to him, ''What do you think of this?'' Brandon said, ''This feels wrong.'' It was definitely a constant process of feeling it out.
I'm glad disability activists are speaking out about this. I'm not going to join them in asking people to boycott the film. I won't go see it myself. Until I knew about all this stuff, I had intended to go as the trailer I saw looked bloody funny and I really like some of the films Stiller has been involved in. Other people can decide for themselves. I know there is an important distinction between trying to ban something and deciding not to go yourself. But there is a bit of me that feels it's all a bit "down with this sort of thing." The film has already been made unfortunately, and we can't decide what other people choose to watch, read or say. But we can inform them on what we think about the controversy and why.
A blog I read had a post up arguing against the "PC vampires" and their weak euphemisms and making a case for people to use language as and how they see fit. I commented there, and I'll copy from that here 'cause I'm too lazy to write the same stuff down twice.
I don't think the word retard should be banned; how do you ban a word anyway? But like some people who have learning disabilities or have family members who are learning disabled, I don’t like the word and want to educate people as to the reasons why.
Retard is an ugly, hard and hurtful word. People can keep on saying it if they want, knowing that choosing a word that refers to people like Brent Martin (beaten to death because a few lads thought it was fun to pick on the ‘tard) or my son or the thousands of people like them, and using that word as a short-hand for stupid, moronic, pathetic, just devalues these people and hurts them.
Some wise people have explained the history of ugly words and how they cause harm. Others can clamour for their freedom to label stupidity after a term used to describe my son’s developmental delay. They can fight to call gay people faggots. It’s different when you know someone well enough and can make an in-joke. But not in a million years will I use a term associated with hate speech. Do you think when bigots attack, they accompany each kick with the PC words, or might they choose the strongest, most hateful language possible?
I don’t know why people are so desperate to be able to keep saying retard as an insult. I think everyone can say and write what they want. I can choose who I talk to and what I read. Just be aware of the reasons why some of us wish that word could just be quietly dropped out of circulation.
Please, just read this one post, then decide if moderating language can be the right thing to do.And how do you make the distinction between hate speech and offensive speech? Yes sure retarded is a valid word. If I put sand in my car’s tank it would retard its performance. My son’s development is retarded compared to his typically developing peers. (I’m not going to refer to them as “normal” as that just makes him by default, abnormal.) Those are perfectly fine uses of the word.
But using that same word to mean disabled people like Duncan, and then using it as synonymous with stupid, pathetic, crap is not nice. If you drop your glass, or bash into a wall and your mates call you a retard or say “jeez you’re so retarded” then a judgement is made on learning disabled people as the epitome of thick.
Oh and just to round off, here’s a much funnier and less wanky way of making the point Stiller claims he wanted to make with his movie. It's the episode of Extras with Kate Winslet. Watch out at 4.40 in particular and notice the reaction of Gervais' character. Excellent stuff.