How are independent theatre owners reacting to the hostile response disability groups are having to Tropic Thunder?

'Thunder' Controversy

on August 12, 2008 by Phil Contrino

By Phil Contrino

Tropic Thunder will hit theatres nationwide tomorrow and it's easily one of the most anticipated comedies of the summer.

Unfortunately, not everybody is laughing.

Thunder has drawn its share of controversy from disability groups who are objecting to what they view as the exploitation of people with disabilities to gain laughter.

Members of the Special Olympics, as well as supporters of the organization, staged a protest during the Thunder premiere and are now calling for a boycott.

In a media alert release by the group, the reason given for protesting the premiere was "to demonstrate against the film's use of the inflammatory word 'retard' and the demeaning portrayal of people with intellectual disabilities throughout the movie."

The negative reactions put theatre owners in a situation where protests could be occurring outside and offended patrons may be asking for their money back. Facing this kind of hostility is certainly nothing new to the world of exhibition and it doesn't change the fact that Thunder is most likely going to rank as another box office success in an already very prosperous summer.

Mike Hurley, the owner of two independent theatres in Maine as well as the creator of, which serves as an online community for exhibitors, respects the complaints being made but doesn't necessarily think that Thunder represents a bigger problem in our society.

"There's obviously nothing funny about making fun of people who are handicapped, whether its physically or mentally. But you know something, the reality is that when I was kid that was normal and I don't think it's normal anymore to do that," said Hurley, "The entire country has come a long way on how we view handicapped people and how they are integrated into the community and how they are treated with respect. Comedy is not always respectful."

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