Sunday, November 27, 2011

Not Again - George Clooney and the R-Word

We saw the movie The Descendants last week and here we go again.  Another Hollywood movie and movie star using the R word as a punch line.  And the thing is-- the scene with the R word in it was so unnecessary.  It did not add a single thing to the plot, to the characters, to the movie.  I wish that the Down syndrome community had a single voice that would come down like a ton of bricks like GLAAD does when someone uses a derogatory slur for gay.  Most recently Brett Ratner was removed as a producer of the 2012 Academy Awards for using the F word (fag) while promoting his movie Tower Heist.  Where is that kind of reaction from the Down syndrome community when a movie uses the R word (retarded) as a punch line?  Where is our unity and our organization?

I really wanted to see The Descendants.  I really enjoy George Clooney.  It's actually a touching and powerful movie.  I was shocked when in the middle of it, George Clooney's character, Matt King says to Nick Krause's character, Sid something to the effect of (I'm paraphrasing because I can't remember word for word) "You are so retarded."

I looked at my husband.  He looked at me.  He knows how I feel about this.  Would I be able to make it through this movie?

That's when the character Sid replies, "That's not nice.  I have a retarded brother."

Matt looks shocked.  

I was shocked.  My husband and I looked at each other again.  Could this be a teaching point? A lesson in the middle of this movie?  No such luck.

Sid goes on to say, "I'm just kidding.  I don't have a retarded brother.  Sometimes when old people and retarded people are slow I just want to make them hurry up......"

Really?  Seriously?  This is entertainment?  What was the point of this scene?  Did George Clooney really feel like this encounter added to the depth of his character?

It just pisses me off.  Using people who have intellectual disabilities as a punch line.  Disability slurs as a means of entertainment?  I don't get it.  I really don't.  I will never get it.

Where is our version of GLAAD?  Who speaks up for those who can't speak up for themselves?

In the past 12 months I have seen movies where someone used the R-word as a derogatory slur starring Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks (Larry Crowne), Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis (Friends With Benefits) and Justin Bateman and Ryan Reynolds (The Change Up).  Now I add George Clooney to that list and it sucks.  I like a lot of the work these actors and actresses have done, but no longer do I respect any of them.


Here are the actual lines from the book "The Descendants":

"Stop it," I yell.  "Stop touching each other."
"Whoa," Sid says.  "Maybe that's why your wife cheated on you if you're so against touching."
I snap my head around to face him.  "Do you get hit a lot?"
He shrugs, "I've had my share."
I face my daughter, "You know you're dating a complete retard.  You know that, don't you?"
"My brother's retarded, man." Sid says.  "Don't use it in a derogatory way."

"Oh."  I don't say anything more hoping he'll interpret my silence as an apology.
"Psych," he says and now kicks the back of my seat.  "I don't have a retarded brother!"  His little trick is giving him a great amount of amusement.  "Speaking of the retarded," he says, "do you ever feel bad for wishing a retarded person or an old person or a disabled person would hurry up? Sometimes I wait for them to cross the street and I'm like, 'Come on already!' but then I feel bad. 


  1. Thanks for writing about this and posting it on Stop Disability Slurs. I will not be watching The Descendants.

  2. Another Hollywood fail. :( Thanks for the warning!

  3. Thank you for taking the time to address such a ridiculous situation. The lines from this movie make me sick. Is there a place to vent our frustrations to the people who made this movie?

  4. I saw this movie too and some people in the theather laughed it is not funney it will never be funney for me because i have CP and my friends have DS and they are nice

  5. Kaui Hart Hemmings is the author of the book The Descendant's & Alexander Payne is the director of the movie. The bullying lines addressed above are the result of the author & the director deciding to keep his own variation of the lines in the script. When an actor or actress portrays a less than desirable role in a movie, like a stripper or a bully they are simply doing their job acting. They are not making a statement. So although the lines are wrong, the anger is hugely misdirected at George Clooney.

  6. Dear Alora-- I respectfully, but wholeheartedly disagree with you. Actors often negotiate the terms of their role. Many actors refuse to do nude scenes and some actors refuse to use certain words like the "N" word or the "F*g" word. Unfortunately, when actors who are held in such high esteem as George Clooney use such words it just reinforces those words in popular culture. Those millions of individuals who have a disability and who are often referred to as "retarded" or who are used as the butt of jokes will never find peace until this type of slur is no longer socially acceptable. As long as I am a paying consumer of movies, I will continue to demand that movies and actors no longer use "retarded" as a joke or a punchline.

  7. Alora, I personally agree with Jenny Dawn. It is sad to see that such a great actor as George Clooney would stoop to such a low point in his career, and not request that a line such as this be removed from the script is a shame. I have a severely handicapped stepson who has no voice so I will continue to be one for him. I do not plan on seeing this movie and am going to encourage others not to as well. What could such a line add to a movie? Nothing!

  8. The reason why Alexander Payne includes this moment in the film is because he wants to expose the inner guilty feelings, as well as the contradictions, of Matt King, his family and their friends. When Sid uses the so-called "R word," he is simply following the idiotic popular mentality that it's okay to use that word jokingly. But the fact that he later admits he "feels bad" about his impatience with people less fortunate than him speaks volumes.

    Words have a special power. That's why they exist in the first place. The issue here is not whether they should be censored, but simply the context in which they are used. I agree with you that sometimes the "R word" is used irresponsibly by filmmakers these days. But in my opinion, it is exercised carefully and wisely in The Descendants, much as the "N word" was exercised carefully and wisely by Twain in Huckleberry Finn.

    1. Adam- thank you for your comment, but I disagree in that the R word is used responsibly in this film. It does not add any additional information about the characters at all. Further, I completely disagree that he feels bad about being impatient about "old and retarded" people speaks volumes. How does Matt King feel about using it and calling a teenager retarded?

      In this particular context, I feel that the R word does not add anything important or additional to either the context of the movie or the characters.

      However, I do appreciate your comment. Best-- Jennifer

  9. what if some organization went public with a sort of "Hollywood blacklist" of movies, writers, and actors who use the r word?" public shame could send a message. especially considering Julia Roberts' involvement with Rett syndrome, "outing" her as being in a film which uses this word could be a real kick in the PR pants.


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