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‘Wolf Of Wall Street’ Under Fire For ‘R-Word’

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Leonardo DiCaprio stars as corrupt-stockbroker Jordan Belfort in

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as corrupt-stockbroker Jordan Belfort in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which is facing criticism from disability advocates. (Courtesy Mary Cybulski/MCT)

Disability advocates are slamming the new film “The Wolf of Wall Street” for using language and references that they say mock those with special needs.

The Arc and United Cerebral Palsy are calling out the Martin Scorsese flick for use of the word “retard” and for describing the main character’s experience while under the influence of Quaaludes as his “cerebral palsy phase.”

“The Wolf of Wall Street’s gratuitous use of an offensive term for people with disabilities, as well as its depiction of cerebral palsy, is outrageous,” said Stephen Bennett, president and CEO of United Cerebral Palsy. “While we understand that the film’s content is deliberately distasteful and excessive, it does not excuse it.”

The film starring Leonardo DiCaprio is based on the party-hard life of New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort who was convicted of fraud and spent 22 months in prison.

DiCaprio won a Golden Globe on Sunday for the portrayal and the movie is expected to be an Oscar contender.

However, the three-hour film has also been criticized for its heavy use of profanity and nudity and for seemingly glorifying the excesses of Wall Street greed.

DiCaprio has defended the depiction, telling Variety, “this film may be misunderstood by some; I hope people understand we’re not condoning this behavior, that we’re indicting it.”

Advocates, however, say that’s not good enough.

“Hollywood just doesn’t seem to get it,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc. “Among moviegoers who have paid to see ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ in recent weeks are people with disabilities, their parents, siblings and friends. It’s time for Hollywood to wake up and see that their customers deserve better.”

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Comments (18 Responses)

  1. Kurc Buzdegan says:

    Yes, they still don’t get it. Though I respect the performers and contributors to this film, it doesn’t excuse the gratuitous use of a term that is so offensive to so many. Any other profane description of any number of minorities would have been scrutinized more thorough before inclusion or omission from a feature film – yet the R-Word seems to get a pass. Though I had planned to see this film, it is now no longer an option, as in the same treatment on our part of “Tropic Thunder”, 3 or 4 less theatre passes, online rentals or DVD purchases may be the only way to get across to the studios that as consumers, we’re not condoning so you’re not getting our dollars. Just tired of getting poked in the eye by Hollywood’s middle digit.

  2. Dennice Hartkop says:

    I understand the sensitivity to use of offensive language as it relates to people with disabilities. However, I would pose the question, while perhaps grossly more offensive, do we not attempt to accurately depict actions or language from other time periods in our history such as slavery or wars. As a parent of three children with disabilities, in this context I interpret it as an accurate snapshot into a moment in time, a history lesson that shows where we were, how far we’ve come and where we need to go.

  3. Ann Remington says:

    While I appreciate the outrage over The Wolf of Wall Street, I would like to say; we need to start with a change of our own i.e. the Arc name. Even though an acronym is used, we all know that is stands for the Association of “Retarded” Citizens. It is long overdue and it needs to start from the top and the state and local organizations will follow.

    In NC the DHHS-Division of Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Development Disabilities changed their facility names i.e. R.J.Riddle Developmental Disabilities Center, etc. Arc of NC and all the others should change their name.

    Just my opinion!
    Family and friend of those we love.

  4. s. campanella says:

    It is not the word which is offensive, but rather the intent of the word. The words, imbecile, moron, and idiot, were originally clinical terms,which were used to categorize levels of mental retardation. Their misuse has driven them into the vernacular. “Retard” was originally used only as a verb, as in to “retard the spark on a distributor setting”. It’s misuse has driven that word out of our language, except perhaps in scientific, or similar circles. What’s next? Handicapped is no longer used. Instead we have physically challenged, but then we have to find something for people who are low functioning, intellectually. This is getting wearisome. What happens when some schoolyard moron (oops!) starts making fun of the words “intellectually challenged”, and someone’s parent gets upset? Do we start looking again, for acceptable euphemisms? It will never stop because it’s the intent, not the words. When we can eliminate mindless, cruelty and fools from our society, let me know.

  5. Beth Roach says:

    I agree with Ann Remington, as long as we as advocates for individuals with developmental disabilities continue the use of “retarded” in our own associations such as ARC and VOR (Voice of the Retarded), how can we expect others to do so……………………………

  6. Kathryn says:

    Hi Ann,
    Here is info from The Arc website that may serve as clarification for their name as it is presently used and for the last 22 years.

    “A History of Name Changes
    1953 – 1973: National Association for Retarded Children (NARC)
    1973 – 1981: National Association for Retarded Citizens (NARC)
    1981 – 1992: Association for Retarded Citizens of the United States (ARC)
    1992 – Present: The Arc of the United States (The Arc)
    Changing with the times

    We, as an organization have been sensitive to the impact of terminology on our constituency and have adapted accordingly. As the words ‘retardation’ and ‘retarded’ became pejorative, derogatory and demeaning in usage, the organization changed its name to ‘The Arc.’

    Today, the term ‘mental retardation’ remains the terminology used in the medical field and referenced in many state and federal laws. However, ‘intellectual disability’ and ‘developmental disability’ are making their presence known, and we are doing everything in our power to make sure they’re adopted more broadly.

    We strongly believe the only ‘r-word’ that should be used when referring to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is “Respect.” “

  7. Meh says:

    While those two words stood out for me, I understood this film was set at an earlier time and that is the way people talked back then and those are the words they used. I also cringe at racial slurs, but understand if I choose to see a movie about slavery, I’m probably going to hear words that I won’t like. Having said that, I am not a member of the disabled community and those words made me cringe, so I can assume someone with a disability or with a family member with a disability would be dismayed to hear them. However, this is a very strongly rated R and no one under 18 should be admitted. I agree with the actor and director, the excesses shown on screen, the narcissim, and the disregard for others and their feelings is a condemnation of that kind of behavior, not a glorification. This movie was based on a real person who has written about his excesses and abuses in two books. At any rate, what I took away from the use of those words is that we have come a long way. Probably 25 years ago, I wouldn’t have noticed their use, much less cringe at them among all the profanity in the film.

  8. Joannie Brown says:

    Is there an email address or phone number we can use to let Scorcese know our outrage. Also any other directors or how to post in “Variety”. Please help us to reach these people and educate them.

  9. Barbara Coppens says:

    I don’t know why they are still doing this this not fair after we had been working so hard getting rid of the word people like that don’t have any respect we are people like every one else who can work live out on there owen
    we need to be more on this
    there isn’t no need for this
    people with Developmental Disabilites are just smart as they are that is my feelings,

  10. DD RN says:

    gosh it’s tiring to be politically correct 100 % of the time- chill out, it is a HOLLYWOOD story, not a manual of how to behave- offensive, yes, but a lot of life is offensive- that Leonardo sure is a cutie !! i will continue to respect people’s right to express different opinions & viewpoints, treat folks -both able bodied & disabled- with the TLC & respect they deserve ( unless they demonstrate cruelty to animals, then all bets are off )- and realize the difference between Hollywood & reality.

  11. Sheila says:

    The use of language that mocks people of difference as some kind of societal ruler to gage one’s importance or to denounce those in an advantaged position, for example, calling someone a “spaz” because they dropped the ball, or yelling out “retard” when someone makes a mistake is not only insulting to people with disabilities, but lowers our standards for compassionate conduct in the world at large. This kind of backward thinking must become an issue in society, and in the educating of our children, one that is on the forefront in our minds, and in our hearts in the human collective.

  12. Dadvocate says:

    S Campanella and others are spot on. Terms come and go and vary by age of speaker (or writer), cultural influences, education or exposure to disability, and a multitude of other factors. It is the intent of the speaker that matters. Are they specifically trying to demean and being applauded for the behavior or trying to be helpful? That is the only reasonable litmus test in my mind.

    Unfortunately, as evidenced by this way off target censorship initiative, too many in the disability community too often demonstrate worship of the ideologically pure in language, rather than the reasonable exercise of common sense. I haven’t yet seen the film, butgGiven my intimate knowledge of the subject matter and era, I’d imagine the artists were challenged to accurately replicate the magnitude of appalling and insensitive behavior of that time and place. It was (and remains in some respects) ghastly. That is exactly the artist’s point, as I understand it.. An indictment of self absorbed and criminal behavior like this should be welcomed by the disability community, so thumbs down to the self appointed disability censorship police.

  13. Patrick Keptner says:

    Keep in mind, this movie is based on events from the late ’80′s to early ’90′s where many people, regardless of occupations, education and severe character flaws, were not that sensitive to others with special needs. Unfortunately, times haven’t changed much – that jerk mentality is still with us.

  14. Tammy says:

    my daughter just doesn’t want to be reminded of her brothers crying, and other traits that his Autism cause. We signed the pldege to stop saying Retarded @ Special Olympics. It’s sad how often I hear it from co-workers and friends. She hears it from friends @ school way to often. Bummer!

  15. Ellen Russell says:

    Ann
    The name has been The Arc (2 words, both w/first letter capitalized) since 1992. Anyone calling it ARC has been been out of touch for 22 years. This name was voted on by the membership at a national convention. The decision (among several options) maintain some vestige of the original identity which was established in 1953, while responding to a call to eliminate the odious R word. Other national organizations, like TASH, the Association for Severely Handicapped, have grappled with the same issue.

    And my dear Ann, they can change the name to Riddle Center, but we all know what it is. “That which we call a rose, by any other would smell as sweet”.

  16. Bryan Connor says:

    Folks ! Here’s the deal. Indeed such terms are beyond replusive. But they are terms that ”fit” into the movies I mean seriously do you think that saying ”intellectual disability” would play well in the movies……the people watching the movie would have to take time to process what ”intellectual disability” actually means. Give the makers of the movies license to use such demeaning terms. I truly hope that the actors (most of them seems to be bright enough) see these as terms that aren’t used to define a group.

  17. Kayleen Hilyer says:

    Thanks for bringing that to our attention. The only thing I heard about that movie was that there were 500+ f bombs.

  18. Eddie says:

    I understand the offensive nature of some words, but we as a society have gotten much too sensitive about “negative” words. I say- get over it. This is just a movie. They are simply trying to portray a certain time period and it’s language more as a matter of history than anything else. I have a son who is handicapped, period. He is handicapped, not “differently-abled” or “mobility-challenged”, etc. Changing the language does nothing to change the reality of the situation. I am not offended by the word “retard” or “retarded” if it used in it’s proper context. Look up the word in Webster’s dictionary. It is not an inherently offensive word. It simply describes a certain condition. I would be mildly offended if someone called my son retarded because he is not. Still, I wouldn’t get mad and rebuke someone for using the word. I would calmly correct them and let it go. I hope we can start being much more thick skinned in the world.

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