Movie Mom

Movie Mom


While We’re On the Subject of Disabilities

posted by Nell Minow

The disability advocates who are picketing “Tropic Thunder” should take a look at “The House Bunny.” It is a much more worthwhile target for their complaints. In that movie, the title character becomes the house mother for a sorority of dorks and losers. She transforms them all with a little mascara, some skimpy clothes, and some tips on how to talk to boys. A few free drinks and an “Aztec virgin sacrifice” party blow-out later, and they’re the most popular girls on campus. One of characters is a young woman wearing a brace for scoliosis, played by Rumer Willis, daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore (far right in the photo).house bunny.jpg The movie also includes a character whose only characteristic is being very short, another defining condition played only for laughs. You can see only a portion of her arm in this publicity photo, which tells you everything you need to know about the role she plays in the movie.
As usual with a disabled character like the girl in the brace, the disability is her only characteristic and we never learn anything else about her. SPOILER ALERT: Incredibly, the plot resolution for this character is that the brace simply falls off of her as she runs (like “Forrest Gump”), with a little help from the former bunny. It turns out she has not needed the brace for four years but kept it on because she was shy. Instead of taking the opportunity to show us a disabled character who is comfortable with her disability and is able to have a full life of studies and friends, the movie implies that no one can be popular and confident with a back brace.



  • Dustin

    Hi, Nell! You may be looking a little too deeply into this one, as “Tropic Thunder” and “The House Bunny” are both pretty lightweight comedies that don’t really mean any harm and certainly do not say anything negative about disabled people. Whereas “Tropic Thunder” uses satire, “The House Bunny” is a silly film where, just as you said, a character has worn a back brace for too long because she’s been shy and grown accustomed to it. When it breaks off of her, it’s a moment of liberation that her character experiences. That is not to say, however, that an actual mentally or physically disabled character wouldn’t have been welcome in the film, as this may have broadened the picture’s sights. I definitely agree with you on that.
    “Space Chimps,” on the other hand…I’m surprised parents did not picket. It has to be the dirtiest, most inappropriate G-rated film I can remember having seen. But that’s another discussion :-)

  • Nell Minow

    I think we are pretty much in agreement on this point, Dustin, if not in our assessment of “The House Bunny.” I am willing to give a lot of leeway in logic to light-hearted movies with modest aspirations. But what seemed like hypocricy in this one bugged me, like the idea that all it took was some mascara and skimpy clothes to turn these girls into knock-outs — and that being turned into knock-outs (and having parties and giving out free drinks) was what it took to make them popular and get them boyfriends was the key to success and happiness. The brace and the short girl served their purpose as dorkiness signifiers and then got jettisoned. Not very consistent with the message that it’s what’s inside that counts. I hope Faris gets a better part next time; she’s the real deal.

  • Greenman

    Early in my days as a gay activist I was quick to take offense at the least little thing. My lover, being more experienced and wiser, thought it was great. When asked he always answered “You know you have arrived when they laugh at you and you have really arrived when you can laugh at yourself.” I think that applies to other groups as well….the handicapped, the emotionally & mentally challenged. When we laugh at ourselves we rob our oppressors of their power.
    Greenman

  • Nell Minow

    I love your attitude, Greenman! And my compliments to your lover. I agree entirely that we should all be able to laugh at ourselves. And we should most certainly laugh at our oppressors, showing them and ourselves that they are more silly than scary. And I don’t know any group that laughs more genuinely at itself than the disabled. They have few illusions and less false pride to worry about and those are usually the reason for a loss of humor.
    “The House Bunny” is a silly, forgettable movie. I am not sure I would have brought up the point of the treatment of disabilities in it if people hadn’t launched such a wrong-headed attack on “Tropic Thunder.” I am by no means suggesting a boycott or protest of this movie. I just wanted to point out that it is a better bad example of Hollywood’s treatment of the disabled than the movie that created all the fuss.
    Thanks so much for writing, Greenman. You’ve made me think through my views on this issue more clearly. I really appreciate your comment and hope you will return often.

  • Samuel O. Jenkins

    How would like if some one mke a fool out of you saying your outfits is too tight? People with disabilities have the same rights as you and you need to respect them.
    Thank you

  • Connie N

    I can only say that I am disabled and, I didn’t hide it from people, I joined a singles group and, now I am one of the popular people and I’m not wearing skimpy clothes, make-up yes. All I had to be was myself.
    I haven’t seen this film so, all I can say is that I agree with Neil about his comment on putting on mascara and skimpy clothes to be popular. We do need movies that show people with disabilities being themselves and, not having to change who they are to have friends. But, if this movie is just a silly movie, then I can live with the premise of it. But, being a disabled person, I do get annoyed when shows have the disabled person seem like they are stupid and, they are insignificant. We are normal people just like everyone else, We just can’t hide our disabilities but, we need to be shown as the smart people we are with personalities instead of a disabled person who you can’t even say hi to. I laugh at my disability and, call myself a cripple once in awhile, I wouldn’t like someone else calling me that but, I wouldn’t get mad if they did.
    I have no desire to watch Tropic Thunder nor this movie. I don’t like movies even silly ones that show “dorks and losers” having to get made over to be popular. The fact they are called dorks and losers annoys the heck out me. I think it is really sad that people are stereotyped as dorks, losers, etc.. It is hurtful. I certainly wouldn’t want to be considered either one of those.

  • Nell Minow

    Connie, no one who writes the way you do could ever be called a dork or a loser! I love your approach to life. It bothers me a lot when movies rely too much on the “makeover” transformation and suggest that popularity is the measure of success. Anyone can be popular by handing out free drinks! I like movies that show everyone — disabled or not — as real characters with a range of strengths and weaknesses.
    (By the way, my name is “Nell” not “Neil” — I am the Movie Mom and definitely female.)

  • Christian Toto

    I had (still have) scoliosis, and it’s not a disability in any standard sense (most people could never tell I had it — and if you’re wearing a brace it means the doctors are trying to stop it before it gets worse). I did wear a brace, but it was mostly unseen under my clothes. I didn’t find the scoliosis girl in this film offensive in the least … and her brace was merely a symbol of her low self esteem. How she sheds it is done for a quick laugh (and a minor one, at that)
    The brace girl’s character is pretty thin, but that’s hardly uncommon in these types of comedy.

  • Nell Minow

    Agreed, Christian, about this category of movie and I only brought this up in the context of what I thought were unjust criticisms of “Tropic Thunder.” But I do hope to see someday disabled characters who are allowed to be more authentic — and that applies to attributes and consequences of the disability as well as actual personalities for the characters. Yes, it is a silly comedy, but couldn’t they do better than having her admit that she wore the brace for an extra four years just because she was shy?

  • c. mcghee

    House Bunny. It’s a movie….grow up. stop running to tell the teacher.

  • Kitty

    This movie is sending the wrong message to young girls & young women. They are telling them they are not good enough to be themselves. God made all of use different for a reason. I feel it is so the world wouldn’t be so boring.LOL I say embrace the world for being it’s self. I taught my 2 kids to be theirselves and never let someone put you down. Take people for whom they are.I have been using a wheelchair for awhile now because of a medical problem. I had always been the type of woman if the feeling hit I just got up and went. I thought those days were over. No more “running” here and there. I was very wrong. I had to learn the world doesn’t change for you,you have to change it for yourself. So I do not “run” here and there anymore I roll. LOL And nothing is going to stand in my way. If someone doesn’t like me because of the wheelchair I feel sorry for them. They are missing out on knowing a great lady. Peace To The World =^:^=

  • lisa

    Did you ever see The Ringer?
    That movie focuses on the disabled. It started out a bit disrespectfull…but it was made by the same director of SHALLOW HAL. That movie and THE RINGER–take a different approach to the concepts of how people perceive the disabled.
    At the end of both of the two movies there is a video saying…We are here…it is great…because it allows those who are not familiar with the DISABLED…to become aware of their “group” intelligence and awareness of their differences in the world and society as a whole.
    Check out THE RINGER—-and watch the turning point of SHALLOW HAL! TWO GREAT FLICKS ABOUT NON-DISABLED PEOPLE COMING TO UNDERSTAND THE DISABLED COMMUNITY…AND ALSO COMPLETELY EMBRACING THE COMMUNITY ENTIRELY.
    P.S. I HAVE LIVED AND WORKED AMONG THE DISABLED, MY SON 15 YR OLD– HAS SEIZURE DISORDER BUT IS VERY TALENTED IN TENNIS, AND GULF, HAS PASSED HIS AMERICAN HISTORY REGENTS WITH AN 88, AND ALSO HAS PASSED BIOLOGY FOR THIS YEAR OF 2008 AS WELL. DISABLITY…HMMM….DID YOU KNOW THAT ELTON JOHN HAS SEIZURE DISORDER ALSO? SOME VERY TALENTED, HIGHLY INTELLIGENT PEOPLE HAVE WHAT WE ALLEGEDLY NON-DISABLED –CALL DISABILITY—
    STRANGE UH?
    MY SON IS LEARNING TO COPE AND I THINK WITH THE MOVIES DESCRIBED ABOVE…IF MORE DIRECTORS AND PRODUCERS WOULD ALLOW…THE REST OF SOCIETY WILL BE EDCUATED IF THEY PRODUCED MORE OPEN AND HONEST PROTRAYALS OF SUCH.
    RIVEROFLIFELISAJOY@2WORDPRESS.COM

  • Nell Minow

    Lisa, I am glad to hear you liked Shallow Hal and The Ringer. I’d also like to mention Stuck On You in this category and especially commend the Farrelly Brothers for putting disabled actors in their films and having them play real characters with personalities that include more than just their disabilities. My favorite part of “Stuck on You” is the closing credits, with a very touching speech from a disabled actor.
    Thanks for a great comment and I hope you will return and comment often on what you think about the movies you see.

  • Nell Minow

    Kitty, thanks so much for a terrific comment! My best to you and your family and here’s to loving people for who they are!

  • Crystal J.

    I am glad someone mentioned Stuck on You. I really enjoyed the ending myself. My mother is a therapist for mentally and sometimes physically handicapped children. I grew up in her room, with her students. They were some of my best friends growing up. I never thought anything was wrong with them, they were just kids like me who were smart and funny and creative and all around great. I still go with her to work sometimes and I still can’t find a single thing wrong with them. That’s because there is nothing wrong to be found. We as a culture learn that people are supposed to be this one way–all the same. When encountering someone who doesn’t fit that description often the reaction is fear and hate. I wish more media would feature varying people. My mother’s students experience social isolation because kids are taught to dislike anything different. Perhaps if there was more out there celebrating our differences the world would be a kinder place for future generations.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks for a wonderful comment, Crystal, and my regards to your mother and her patients. You make the important point that the physical and mental challenges are not nearly as difficult for disabled people and their families as the social isolation based on ignorance and fear. Many times it is just because people do not know what to say or how to behave. You were very lucky to learn early on that the answer is just to be open and friendly. Those who appreciate that will have friendships they treasure always.

  • c. mcghee

    omg…

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks for posting C. McGhee! The comments here show that even a silly little movie with no pretensions can lead to a thoughtful and very frank conversation about subjects with a lot of meaning. Sometimes a silly movie is a better starting point than one that takes the issues too seriously. In general, comedies take on controversy sooner and more directly than dramas — take a look at “Dr. Strangelove” or even “Tropic Thunder.”

  • D

    I had a back brace. I agree that this movie implies simply that:
    back brace = nerd
    So, for the young teenagers who simply can’t shed their brace and go running off into the land of popularity, you’re SOL.
    the soup nazi says,
    NO SOCIAL LIFE FOR YOU!
    Thanks. This is great. Another shallow movie to raise the kids on.

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