Current StatusThe controversy over the use of the R-word in Tropic Thunder sparked the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, which continues to promote the use of respectful language toward people with intellectual disabilities. The organization has an online petition where people can pledge to end the word, as well as resources for advocating against the R-word. In May 2011, the campaign released a public-service announcement equating the R-word with other minority slurs.
Tropic Thunder is an R-rated Hollywood satire co-written, directed, and starring Ben Stiller. He and co-stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black play actors in a war film who stumble into an actual war, and make it all part of their Method. It was expected that some outrage might center on Downey's actor character, who darkens his skin to play an African American character in the movie-within-a-movie.
Instead, disability advocates have expressed dismay over a subplot involving Stiller's character, who previously portrayed a person with intellectual disabilities in a movie called Simple Jack. In one scene, he describes how deeply he went in the process of becoming Jack, and is advised by Downey's more experienced actor to "Never go full retard."
A mock promotional website for Simple Jack with the tagline "Once upon a time ... there was a retard" and T-shirts with the "Never go full retard" slogan sparked concern among advocates for people with intellectual disabilities, who asked to screen the film. What they saw caused them to organize pickets for the movie's premiere, recommend boycotts, set up online petitions, and start a campaign against the R-word.