Our Five Ring Circus: Dear Hollywood Screenwriters, Please Reconsider Your Use of the "R" Word

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Dear Hollywood Screenwriters, Please Reconsider Your Use of the "R" Word

Dear Hollywood Screenwriters, Please Reconsider Your Use of the "R" Word

Dear Hollywood Screenwriters,

I tend to be an open minded person. I don't get offended about much, I don't get caught up in controversy, and I try to understand both sides of an issue. But today, I need to bring light to a very serious topic that affects millions of your fellow human beings, including my own family: the overuse of the word "retarded" in the entertainment industry.

The word "retard(ed)" isn't just a casual word to toss around in everyday conversation. It has one particular meaning, and it's directed at an entire community of people who have a disability. It's derogatory, it's hurtful and it's extremely offensive. Did you know that "retard" was voted the most offensive word related to a disability? So why do so many of you continue to use it so freely?

This is my beautiful son, Liam. If you had told me that I would have a child who had Down syndrome one day, I would have laughed in your face. Having a baby with Down syndrome simply didn't happen to a younger couple, especially when their chance of having a child with Down syndrome was 1 in 891. But SURPRISE! We had a child with Down syndrome, and as it turns out, he's an amazing kid. 

Spread The Word To End The Word

See that beautiful, happy face above? When you use the word "retard(ed)" it is directed at him and all of his peers who have an extra chromosome. You may say it's "just a word" but the reality is it's a direct insult.

I realize that it's impossible to truly understand something until it directly affects you, so let me explain it to you from a mother's perspective:

Imagine that you have a child whom you love more than life itself. Now imagine that your child has Down syndrome, and you have to fight every single day for his or her right to even exist in this world. You work tirelessly to educate others, because there are still so many misconceptions about Down syndrome, and so much hate. You have to love your child fiercely for all of the judgemental people who refuse to accept them because of one extra chromosome that occurred by chance. NOW...just imagine how you would feel when you hear the word "retarded."

If you still don't quite get it, let me put it bluntly. Hearing the word is like a punch in the stomach. It brings tears to your eyes and takes your breath away. You think of your beautiful child, whom you love more than anything, and you instantly feel sad because the world is failing you, failing your family, and most of all, failing your child. Words have power, and this word is beyond painful.

Before going any further, I should disclose the fact that I am far from perfect. I have used the "r" word before, like many other kids who grew up in the 80's and 90's. But that was before I was old enough to know better, and I left that word back on the playground a very long time ago, which is exactly where it belongs. 

The world is evolving, and it's gradually becoming a more inclusive place for people of all abilities, genders, races, religions, and sexual preferences. That's a great thing, but speech needs to evolve, too. Did you know most medical professionals don't even use the "r" word anymore because it became such a derogatory term? It's time for everyone to evolve, and leave that word behind.

I understand that many people who use the "r" word just might not realize how much the word hurts. That's why I educate. That's why I'm bringing up this topic today. I don't always feel completely comfortable approaching people about the use of this word, but change comes from those who are brave enough to take a stand, so that's why I become so vocal about this topic.

Serial "R" word users argue freedom of speech, say that people are too sensitive, or cite the fact that the word is in the dictionary, but what about treating others with respect? That is a basic human principle. If an entire community is telling you that a word that describes millions of people throughout the world is offensive, you should listen. We're not advocating to stir up trouble. We're simply educating and telling you that hearing the word HURTS. It hurts the person that the word is describing, and it hurts those who love that person. It is NEVER EVER okay to use the "r" word in a derogatory way!

My experience in the entertainment industry is limited to the stage and one independent film, so I am approaching you as an enthusiastic viewer. Prior to having kids, I enjoyed hours upon hours of performing on stage. It was my LIFE. When I was performing, I became that character, and in that role, I said things that would never come out of my own mouth. The entertainment industry, even at the very bottom, is truly another world!

Shortly after my first child was born, I traded in the scripts, dance shoes, and sheet music for the world of domestic bliss and mom blogging. There are days when I miss the stage so much that it hurts, but I wouldn't trade all the gifts I have now for anything in the world. But sometimes, I just need to escape from the chaos, busyness, and responsibility of parenting four children, and get pulled into the world of entertainment through movies and TV shows. I would just like to be able to do so without the threat of the "r" word lurking in so many popular movies and shows! Hearing that word pop up immediately turns an enjoyable pasttime into something that troubles me.

The world of blogging is cut-throat enough, so I can only imagine what you, as screenwriters, are dealing with in Hollywood. Pouring out your heart, in something you believe in, is a daunting task. I, like so many people around the world, am grateful for what you do! I enjoy escaping from the world of parenting into the world of TV and film. But I am begging you! Would you please reconsider the use of the "r" word the next time you are working on a script? There are so many descriptive words out there that would be much better suited for what you are trying to convey!

I would love to say that Hollywood is making progress and becoming more inclusive, but sadly, that's not the case. I understand that you are the ones who are working hard and making the money, but this shouldn't even be an issue these days. The "r" word should be a thing of Hollywood past, but it just seems to be used even MORE often, which is simply incomprehensible!

You could easily tell us to just not watch if we're offended, but how do we even know the word is in a film or TV show until we start watching? Once we hear it, the damage is already done. It can't be unheard. But there's such a simple solution. Leave the word in the past, where it belongs, progress with the rest of us, and find a less offensive alternative to that word! It's such a simple way to make a HUGE difference.

There are dozens of alternatives to the "r" word that do not directly describe a person who has a disability. You WILL be able to get your point across without offending millions of people. And if you're still stuck, reach out to me for help! Juggling a husband, four kids, four rabbits, a puppy that will soon be bigger than me, a blog and a home can be incredibly stressful. I'm not ashamed to admit that I have a plethora of colorful expletives running through my head that get me through those tough moments!

Deep down, I know this open letter won't make much of a difference in your lives. Old habits are hard to break, and sadly, some people just don't care. If you are reading this (even if you are not a screenwriter), I hope it made you think. I have hope that change will come. Thanks to inclusion, today's children are exposed to people of all abilities at a very young age. This is the new normal, and these kids - kids of ALL abilities - are the future. They will be taking over your jobs one day, and I have faith that they will use less offensive speech in the equally amazing screenplays and scripts that they will write. 

I love my son, who is rocking - yes ROCKING - an extra chromosome, and I will never stop fighting for him. I will never stop educating about the use of the "r" word, and I will call out those who use it in a respectful manner. Advocating for Liam has been my reality for 4 1/2 years, and I'm happy to say we've already made a difference. We're on a mission to educate, and change the world one contagious smile at a time! Liam has touched the hearts of those near and far, and if this letter makes just one of you reconsider the use of this incredibly derogatory word, then I've done my job!

Down syndrome

With love and respect,

A rockin' mom who will NEVER stop advocating for her son 

Down syndrome blog

Today is Spread The Word To End the Word Day. The Spread The Word campaign is asking people to take a pledge to stop using the "r" word. Using respectful language is essential for a peaceful, more inclusive world, and this is a great way to educate others who may not understand just how hurtful this word actually is. 


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  1. I haven't noticed that word used in shows or movies lately, but I know I would cringe if I did!

  2. This is wonderful. We talked about this when I was in college. I am behind you 100%. There is no need for that word.

  3. The good news is that it isn't tossed around left and right like it was when I was a kid. But I still hear people use it as an insult now and then. It always surprises me and raises my hackles.

  4. Excellent blog! Do you have any recommendations
    for aspiring writers? I'm hoping to start my own site soon but I'm a little lost on everything.
    Would you recommend starting with a free platform like Wordpress or
    go for a paid option? There are so many options
    out there that I'm completely overwhelmed ..
    Any tips? Many thanks!

  5. Beautiful post! Like Dara, I haven't noticed it in much that I've watched lately but I would hate to hear it too. It really is a word that needs to be kept in the past. We should be above that.


  6. Amen to this!! I have not and will not ever use that word. I have always thought it was completely unnecessary.


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