Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Charities urge Netflix to remove use of ‘R’ word from Ricky Gervais show

Scope and Mencap have joined forces to call on streaming giant Netflix to remove the use of the ‘R’ word in a new stand-up show by Ricky Gervais.

The show – Armageddon – is due to be released on Christmas day, but clips promoting it on social media show the star talking about making videos for terminally ill children via the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

In it, he calls them ‘baldies’, and then uses the ‘R’ word to ask why they didn’t wish to get better.

In the letter, James Taylor, Director of Strategy, Impact and Social Change at disability equality charity Scope and Jackie O’Sullivan, Acting Chief Executive at learning disability charity Mencap, say the decision of a major streaming platform to air the ‘R’ word so casually has consequences.

They go on to say that millions of disabled people, family members, friends and members of the public will be deeply affected by Netflix’s decision to air a programme containing multiple uses of a traumatising, dehumanising ableist slur. This isn’t just language that “some viewers may find offensive”. This is a word that causes real harm.

Netflix is undoing years of hard work trying to improve society for disabled people

The letter adds: “Disabled people have told us that this word can feel like a physical assault, and strips away their humanity. Yet, unlike other forms of hate speech, the ‘R’ word is still used in jokes and casual banter for people’s amusement.

“When you broadcast such language, it emboldens people to use this derogatory term in day-to-day life. It’s a sad reality that online abuse, bullying and trolling is a common experience for disabled people. Scope research has found that 3 out of 4 disabled people have experienced negative attitudes or behaviour in the last 5 years.

“By giving this word airtime, you are undoing years of hard work trying to improve society for disabled people. It’s the 21st century and words like this have no place in our society, alongside other offensive terms that attack and stigmatise minority groups.”

Gervais has since claimed that he would never use language like this in ‘real life’, saying he was merely ‘playing a role’ as part of the gag.

He added: “You wouldn’t level that accusation that other art forms. You wouldn’t go up to Sir Anthony Hopkins and go: “Saw you in Silence Of The Lambs. What, so you’re a cannibal, are you?”’

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