Controversy, popular culture

The Alleged Phase

Let me start by saying I sincerely enjoy watching and discussing films probably more than most people I know. Martin Scorcese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) is no exception. It’s a great film in several ways: great acting, great directing, great editing, and a great screenplay…for the most part.

I remember watching this movie for the first time and coming across this one scene, where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, based on a former stockbroker, is insanely high on this ridiculous drug called Lemmon. This scene depicts what ensues after Dicaprio’s character takes the drug. He is seen crawling and drooling all over the place with a heavy slur in his speech. Is it comical? No. Not really. Here’s where it gets really problematic: At about the 0:36-0:37 mark, DiCaprio’s voice over, while discussing the drug’s intense high, says “…I discovered a whole new phase. The cerebral palsy phase.”

Yes, he really says that, and yes, you better believe I’m angry about it. The “cerebral palsy phase?” What does that mean? In case you don’t figure out why that is SO messed up within seconds of DiCaprio’s character saying it, I’m going to break it down for you. DiCaprio’s character was essentially equating the experience of his stupid, superfluous drug high (which was no doubt excessive in and of itself) with someone who lives with cerebral palsy. That’s disgusting. Cerebral palsy is a disability and a serious neurological condition, and those of us who have it may face significant challenges. Which doesn’t mean we don’t triumph….we do. In my experience though, some days it’s more difficult to do so than others.

That single line put those who live with CP in a box by saying that all of us with this diagnosis have it that severe. That is absolutely not true. I am a breathing example of that, and there are many others who are, too. However, it is true that there several different levels of severity with cerebral palsy. Every individual with the diagnosis is affected differently. No case is the same. Some may use crutches as mobility aides; some may not. Some may need a power chair to get around; some may not. Some may have a speech impediment; some may not. Some may walk unassisted; some may not. There are some with CP whose cases are so severe that they require 24/7 care.

In any case, every single one of them are human beings and should NOT be mocked or turned into the butt of some joke in a mainstream film. The joke wasn’t funny; it was disrespectful, distasteful, and rude. Honestly, I don’t care that DiCaprio’s character is meant to be a complete jerk and this line helps prove it…. he would’ve still been a jerk without that line about CP thrown in there, and they definitely could’ve done without it. Why was it even there? Was it really that necessary? Um, let me think for a millisecond: no. Come on; be better.

Imagine how many millions of people watched this film; a three hour-long epic that arguably glorifies the life of someone who is excessively wealthy, likes to party, have gratuitous sex, and engage in heavy and explicit drug use. Imagine all those minds that watched this film that may have been influenced by this line about CP, or led to believe this clip is an accurate representation of somebody who has cerebral palsy. (It’s not. It’s just insulting). Or worse: imagine how many audience members didn’t even care about this horrible comparison, since they were too busy cackling at DiCaprio’s acting in the scene. I’m inclined to believe the worst. Maybe because people can be awful. If that sounds like a generalization, it’s because it is. If it sounds like I’m being judgemental to those who mock others with disabilities, it’s because I absolutely am. Making fun of those who may move differently than you, or identify differently as a whole, is just plain wrong, cruel, shallow, and frankly, dumb. To the screenwriter who wrote this film…please get better and smarter material for your jokes.