Snowboarder Shaun White got into some hot water this weekend when he revealed his Halloween costume, a Simple Jack ensemble inspired by Tropic Thunder that earned the ire of the Special Olympics for its “offensive” representation of people with intellectual disabilities. While White has since apologized and taken down the image of his costume, Tropic Thunder actor Ben Stiller has also spoken out.
Responding to a user on social media, Stiller, whose Tropic Thunder character portrayed Simple Jack in the film, wrote, “Tropic Thunder was boycotted 10 years ago when it came out, and I apologized then. It was always meant to make fun of actors trying to do anything to win awards. I stand by my apology, the movie, Shaun White, And the great people and work of the @SpecialOlympics.”
When Tropic Thunder was released in 2008, disability advocates protested the film over Simple Jack, Stiller’s character from the movie within the movie that seemingly poked fun at actors who portray people with disabilities for Oscar bait.
“We are truly disappointed that Shaun White, an acclaimed Olympian, would choose this costume which is so offensive and causes so much pain,” the Special Olympics said in a statement to HuffPost. “Disability is not a joke nor should it be a punchline. We hope that Shaun White and others learn that this just continues stigma, stereotypes and discrimination.”
After taking down the photo on Instagram, White issued an apology to the organization.
“I owe everyone in the Special Olympics community an apology for my poor choice of Halloween costume the other night. It was a last minute decision. It was the wrong one,” he wrote. “The Special Olympics were right to call me out on it. They do great work supporting so many tremendous athletes and I am sorry for being insensitive. Lesson learned.”
According to Reuters, Special Olympics spokesperson Peter Wheeler spoke out against Tropic Thunder during the film’s initial release. “We are asking people not to go to the movie and hope to bring a consciousness to people about using derogatory words about this population,” he said.
Simple Jack was portrayed as a mentally challenged farm boy who was often referred to as the R-word. DreamWorks defended the inclusion at the time, via Reuters, “Tropic Thunder is an R-rated comedy that satirizes Hollywood and its excesses, and makes its point by featuring inappropriate and over-the-top characters in ridiculous situations. The film is in no way meant to disparage or harm the image of individuals with disabilities.”