21 Jump Street Movie Ignites Autism Controversy


21 Jump Street

Sony Pictures

The blogosphere has been abuzz the last few days about an emerging controversy involving the new "21 Jump Street" movie starring Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum and Ice Cube. The movie, set for release on Friday, March 16th, is being promoted by a YouTube trailer, which shows Ice Cube using the term "autistic" as an insult towards Jonah Hill’s character. After a detailed presentation from Hill on a bulletin board, Ice Cube mockingly states, "This chart looks like sh*t, are you autistic?" 

What makes the comment so troubling is the insinuation that autism is characterized by individuals who are messy, unorganized and incoherent, and this couldn’t be further from the truth.

It’s unclear why it was decided to include this in the movie (let alone the trailer), but autism advocates are not at all amused and according to Examiner writer Melissa Teodorovic, calls for a boycott have already begun.

Adding to the controversy, Holly Robinson Peete (of original 21 Jump Street fame) has a cameo role in the film and certainly can’t be pleased with these developments. Peete is the mother of a child with autism and a widely recognized autism advocate. She is the founder of the HollyRod Foundation and a board member for Autism Speaks. According to Teodorovic, Peete responded to the controversy via Twitter claiming the line was not in the original script and that autism should never be used as "a punchline."

In a final twist, Autism Awareness Month is only a few weeks away and "21 Jump Street" will still be in theatres at the time. Hopefully, Ice Cube, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, as well as the producers of the film, will take the time to educate themselves about autism before attempting to garner cheap laughs at the expense of those who have the disorder.

52 Responses to 21 Jump Street Movie Ignites Autism Controversy

  1. Charlene Gilbert says:

    I can’t believe this!!! So sad.

  2. Andrea says:

    After watching the new “21 Jump Street” movie trailer, I am so upset. I don’t understand why it’s okay to disrespect and make fun of people with autism? In the clip Ice Cube asks jonah Hill “What are you Autisitic?” As parents of three boys with autism, this is not acceptable. The ironic thing is, one of the things that our boys love is movies and movie logos, including Ice Cube’s “Are We There Yet?” and here he is, making fun of autism. How shameful. Our boys spend hours drawing Sony, Columbia and MGM logos and ask every day when they can visit the studios and see the logos… little do they know they are making jokes about them. How sad. Now what do I tell them?

  3. Charleen says:

    I understand that people nowadays cant take a joke, and take EVERYTHING way to seriously, but that was funny. It’s like when jennifer aniston said retard on that talk show and everybody made such a big deal about it… SO WHAT!!! OMG can nobody say anything anymore without somebody being offended and protesting and causing an uproar!!! It doesn’t matter what yor walk of life, there is going to be jokes and snibes made, sooo get over it. It’s not that important, instead of wasting your ONE life on this pettiness, how bout you spend it with your kids, or friends and family.

  4. suzane says:

    Disgusting!!

  5. Shubhankar says:

    It indeed is a shame to use certain disability as a punchline.

    Charleen, I understand your point, but the question is where to draw a line when joking. I am sure that there are certain areas for yourself, which are out-of-bounds when joking.

    Similarly, mention of disability in jokes is out-of-bounds for families whose loved ones have disabilities.

    Get inspired and compassionate by reading stories on WorldWeDream.org

  6. Matt says:

    Charleen.. First off, it was NOT funny….not even close. Second, I’m assuming you don’t have a loved one w/ autism because if you did, you would understand the reason for people being so upset. Autistics are dehumanized and discriminated against on a regular basis and we dont need a stupid Hollywood movie helping to further advance those problems. I’ll be the first to admit out if someone is being too PC, but as the old saying goes, “until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes…..”

  7. I called Sony Pictures to file a complaint today. I was referred to their Ethics department – 800-376-3839, option 3 is for non-employment complaints. They listened, took a report, and gave me a case number and PIN. I didn’t call about censorship — use whatever words you want. But I called because they chose to use autism as a punchline in a TRAILER – that’s how they’re choosing to promote the film. That means I can’t opt out of seeing the material, which is offensive to me, by just avoiding the film; I have to avoid all trailers for the movie in theatres, and I don’t know when that will appear. I’m a mom to a 2 year old awesome boy – who happens to be autistic, too. I want to eradicate the r-word (r*tarded) from casual use in daily language before he’s old enough to know what that means — but to see mainstream media shift the language from the r-word to specifically citing my child’s medical condition? Unthinkable. Thanks for bringing attention to this.

  8. Tracey says:

    When I saw this trailer a few moments ago I felt ill. I am the mother of a fabulous boy who has Autism. He is fully aware that he is “different” so it would be nice if the ugly people in the world could attempt some kindness. It is NOT cool in any way to make fun of a person with Autism! I wish that people could see how hurtful it is. I wanted to see this movie. No way! I can’t sit through it – I just can’t. It is so disappointing to see how ignorant people are. I will not be bothering to reply to any ugly comments left here. I am above arguing with people who are close minded. To the other parents posting here who were hurt…..hugs to you….

  9. Mark says:

    I have to agree that people are overly sensitive today. I am what the P.C. Police calls “physically challenged” – me? I call myself handicapped! I have NO qualms with jokes made about my condition – in fact, I often make my OWN snide jokes about being handicapped.

    There ARE those, however, who will get offended by a comment like the one made in the trailer and movie. The problem is that these days we’re too litigious and easily-offended due to the social programming made by the P.C. Police and others. I say if you are offended by something, remember what your mother told you “Sticks and Stones….” I never had a joke or word break any of my bones…so I’m not very offended by the use of this term in the way it was meant – as a joke! Having said that, I won’t see this movie because I don’t like it when Hollywood takes a good TV Show that was serious and makes it into a comedy. I LIKED the original 21 Jump Street – this one looks pretty dumb and lame.

  10. Kathy says:

    I get jokes, I really do and have thought myself that sometimes people are extremely oversensitive to things that they hear or see. However, I look at this from the standpoint of a parent. My son is autistic and very bright and perceptive being diagnosed 2 years ago. He has a terrible self esteem because he knows he is different and at times says he wishes he wasn’t autistic. So what should you do if your autistic child sees THAT on TV and asks why he called the other guy autistic. Explain that people use that as a mean and hurtful thing. I am sure he would understand, but it would also make him feel that yes, being autistic is not ok in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I am not taking my son to see the movie, but that is something he could have seen in the commercial. Autism may not always be a physically apparent condition which can make it very difficult for the millions of children diagnosed to accept themselves and I for one don’t need Hollywood making it any more difficult for my son.

  11. Aspie Dad says:

    The way autism is being used here is as a slur to insult the other character. This makes it an insult to everyone with autism. This is going to hurt many people who have autism and who will see this trailer. It is very disrespectful to people like me and my son. We are both autistic and we have every right to be offended by this hateful portrait of autism as an insult. We deserve respect and acceptance. Not insults and derision!

    This has noting to do with being politically correct. It’s all about having respect for people who already have it hard enough. It’s about having empathy for others. It is about being careful not to hurt others who don’t deserve to be targeted for insults. This kind of insensitivity needs to stop. People with autism are people with feelings just like everybody else.

    Autistic rights are human rights!

  12. pfftlecakes says:

    I’ll start off by saying I’m not autistic, but my boyfriend is and this sort of humor is usually something we both get a kick out of. I tend to be on the side of ‘say what you want, not everything has to be politically correct’, but I also know there is a time and place for everything. I wouldn’t make a retard joke in public because I just don’t want to offend people that don’t know me. Among certain people (my aspergian boyfriend included!) I can say whatever offensive anything I want and it will immediately be understood as not serious at all. Unfortunately, this movie overstepped an important boundary; there are things you can say in a movie that you simply SHOULD not say in a trailer. Now everyone is subjected to a type of humor that is hurtful to a huge group of people who deal with enough bigotry on a daily basis. Kids will see this trailer, recognize it is a comedy and repeat what they hear accordingly. The fact that the joke is meant for adults just makes it that much cooler to say.

    In short, I really don’t care what they put in these crappy Hollywood movies anymore. They’re stretching for stories and plots and jokes and wind up offending people. It happens. But putting a foul joke like this in the trailer so it’s simply unavoidable is pretty disgusting. I feel awful for all the autistic people and their families that have to be subjected to these awful jokes.

  13. Carol says:

    In addition to calling Sony’s ethics department, you can call Sony Pictures at (310) 244-4000 and tell the operator you’d like to express a concern/complaint about this.

  14. Veronica says:

    It has nothing to do with being politically correct! It has more to do with being considerate of the feelings of those who currently live with autism. Using the word “autistic” in this manner is very offensive. It’s as though “autistic” is being used to replace that nasty “R” word that so many ignorant individuals choose to use. Ice Cube is just another example of the long list of ignorant people who open their mouths to speak without engaging their brains first.

  15. Brady Williams says:

    Get over it! Not everything has to conform to the holier-than-thou PC view of things.

  16. Libby says:

    These days there are too many people who think that if they can say whatever they want, that they should. Words do hurt. Words and internet publication is forever, and when you say hurtful things on the web they are out there forever as a picture of the kind of person you are. Character is shown by the words we use or don’t use.

  17. Stephanie R (parent of a child with Aspergers Disorder a higher functioning form of Autism) says:

    As a parent of a child who has a higher functioning form of Autism (Aspergers Disorder) I am highly offended that in this day and age people would be so insensitive. Unless you’ve been in the shoes of parents with children with Autism…then you have absolutely no clue what we deal with on a daily basis or the struggles our children go through! For those on here talking about get over it…I’m here to tell you to kiss my a$$ for the simple fact that you obviously are clueless about Autism and are not in the shoes of parent who are raising children with Autism. All children are gifts from God…however I truly believe that God gives special children to special parents! So if you are a parent of a child/children with Autism Spectrum Disorder…hip hip horray for you…because you are truly special and blessed like I am!

  18. Megan says:

    What I don’t get is WHY even write that statement into the script?

  19. Lisa says:

    My 5 yr old child is autistic. I’m really not bothered by it. It wasn’t a good choice of words, but I think society gets to politically correct with words sometimes. We use the word retarded freely to joke about things, I see no difference in this other than its not a very accurate description of what autism is. 

  20. Tammy says:

    I get jokes. I get that people think that we parents are over sensitive. You know what else I get…tears. My kid crying because he doesn’t understand the world around him. I get the frustration when he doesn’t have the right words to say to his peers…and he gets made fun of. I feel the pain he has..because I am his mother. I will always have that pain just because he is a square peg that is supposed to fit into a round world. I should be able to go to a movie without it being thrown in my face and belittled. If you Carleen or all the other people who want to belittle my kid and say it’s ok don’t understand that…too bad! I don’t really care if you think it’s funny….I find it painful and I pray that you never have to be the advocate for your child.

  21. Ken says:

    Nobody is going to see this movie anyway.

  22. Farah Wicks says:

    The comment is so stupidly totally out of context. Messy = autism? There’s no correlation. They could have called it religion, ethnicity, colour even but a medical condition? Good Grief! Must have been late at night when they came up with that particular line, and it slipped through the net. Why not have him walk into a room and see all the booked all colour coded and say “what’s wrong with you, are you autistic?” but wait, that’s not funny is it…

  23. Nancy says:

    I get so frustrated when people think that it is funny to use the word “autistic” or “retarded”. I grew up with a sister who is retarded and it hurts to hear that word “retarded” used as a joke. I feel the same about the the word “autistic”. Grow up people! Those terms hurt if not used in the correct content. I will NOT be watching this movie.

  24. Kim says:

    It’s laughable only b/c it doesn’t even make sense. The board looks disorganized and bad so the person is autistic? When, in actuality, autistic people are probably the most organized people you would ever meet.
    It’s not offensive to me, but it is a bad, stupid joke. If the intention is to make Ice Cube’s character look dumb and unintelligent, then they succeeded.

  25. Educator1 says:

    If you watch the trailer close enough you see that they used the word as almost a pun to set up Jonah Hill’s following line, “Yes its artistic”. Autistic sounds similar to Artistic — and it also describes a condition that might make it difficult to communicate your ideas — so, it sets up the joke.

    That being said, its a really lame joke, not funny at all, and comes at a really high cost when considering the controversy the use of the word “Autism” as set off in this context.

    Here’s the deal — I guarantee you that this was put in, probably at the last minute or even as an improvisational bit because the guys doing the scene thought it was funny. Regardless of what those of us that work with autistic children think, what is represented in that scene is actually how people talk and joke with one another — so in that sense it is pretty darn realistic. Very few people are PC in their private conversations. Some are not even PC in their public conversations.

    We live in a world where it is seemingly ok to say whatever is on your mind. Just read the comments here. Or just look at our political discourse. Autism is not the only label to be used in an offensive way. What about words that are degrading to women? Or to other ethnicities?

    There is a decided lack of civility among all people — not just on film or in public, but everywhere. If people all practiced a little more civility, in all aspects of their lives, we wouldn’t need to be arguing about this.

  26. Debra says:

    I refuse to see this movie because of the filmmakers ignorant choice. Charleen, you obviously don’t get it. This isn’t a case of over reacting or others being too sensitive. There are too many people suffering along with their affected children to have patience for people like you that feel they must comment on something they know nothing about. There’s nothing funny about making autism the butt of a joke.

  27. Debra says:

    And by the way Charleen, we are spending every waking and more often than not, hardly awake moments with our kids who can’t talk or feel comfortable in the world you take for granted.

  28. Matt K says:

    Charleen and Brady are fools. They can feel that way because They don’t have children being victimized. Empathy isn’t in their heart, because they don’t know what its like to have to speak up for our children, too manyof whom cannot speak for themselves. Fools, and selfish fools at that. “Deprive us of our yuks? How dare you….”

  29. Sarah says:

    This entire thing boggles my mind. You can’t pick & choose what’s offensive as it suits you. I suffer from a mental illness but I don’t call Sony every time someone is called crazy in one of their films. This is a world of free speech. While this may offend you, you probably find humor in things that offend others. Was it there intent to hurt people? No. That doesn’t make it right but that doesn’t mean the world is coming to an end over this one “joke”. There’s worse things in the world then this. If it offends you, don’t watch it. It’s as simple as that. Don’t verbally attack those who wish to. And if you find it funny, fine, but don’t be a dick to those who are offended. It’s as simple as that. Everyone needs to learn to be more respectful of the other 6 billion people in the world, regardless of what side of autism, religion, mental illness, mental/phyical disability, sex, etc. Having a loved one with Autism isn’t easy but that doesn’t make you superior or give you the right to verbally attack others.

  30. Mariana says:

    This is the first time I see this particular trailer and it was rather sad. I’ve always had a respect for Ice Cube but after this I lost it. It’s sad to see how ignorant people have become. I don’t see the humor in it and I’m not overly sensitive. How is that even funny?

  31. Tammy says:

    Hey Sarah, I get your point…however the fact that you’re overlooking is that this is the TRAILER. That means if I go to a movie other than this and this trailer is run I have to sit and watch it and listen to jerks laugh at a punchline that belittles people with autism. So your whole point is made mute. I also have a child who does not function on her own level. I also get pissed off when I hear retard and short bus jokes. People used to think using the “n” word was acceptable. We would never see that in a mainstream movie these days, as we shouldn’t. I chose not to watch TV or movies that think it’s acceptable to belittle anyone. Shocker. You talk about people being respectful of each other and at the same time say it’s ok to use speech anyway you choose regardless of the point it makes. My kids can’t speak up for themselves so your darn right I’m going to speak for them. I will keep speaking until I can no longer do so. It seems the only people who are uncomfortable with that are the ones who want to use this kind of speech and not be told it isn’t right.

  32. Momto4boys says:

    To Charleen: I support people’s right to say dumb things because that’s what freedom of speech is about BUT I also support people’s rights including my own to be offended by something that is offensive, and to express that disgust.

  33. Jennifer says:

    U obviously haven’t lived through the trials of raising a child w autism…

  34. Kyle says:

    It’s comedy. No one was hurt because of the joke. As far a jokes go, it was actually pretty tame. If everyone got their way – there would be no humor because in a way – everything offends someone in some way. Remove stick from ass – if you’re life is so lame that you have nothing to do but boycott and post against a movie because of one line – you need to get out of the house. Let the neighbors watch the kids, go on a vacation. Get a job, take up a late night art class. Do something, because really – this is the lamest thing I’ve seen people get upset over. “But, you wouldn’t say that if you had….” A Fat kid, retarded kid, ginger kid, short kid, kid with bucked teeth, kid with freckles, kid with a lisp, cross-eyed kid, so on and so forth. They didn’t maliciously attack a kid with autism – they didn’t promote the bashing of autistic kids – it was a joke. Watch Mercury Rising, take a breather – as for me and my autistic brother, we’re going to have a laugh and go see the movie again while you try and protest it. Btw – the boycott is going well I see – it’s made more money then it spent, so it’s successful. Can’t wait for the dvd.

  35. Ayanna says:

    someone was hurt, me and my 16 year old son, who heard it and noticed that they don’t say “wow that’s amazing what are you autistic. No they say it looks like s**t. Maybe it wouldn’t have been a funny punch line but it wouldn’t have left my son and his autistic friends the butt of a joke. bad enough we have to hear the R word on a daily basis.
    Just in case anyone is wondering WORDS DO HURT. they leave buries on hearts that don’t heal as quickly

  36. Patrice says:

    I am not a supporter of being politically correct for political correctness sake. The reality is just one line, just one joke, no big deal–all these comments and so many more on this site are so much more than just one line and they show the ignorance of most of society when it comes to autism.

    The problem with this just one line is that it mocks an entire group of people and isn’t funny. Thirty years ago the same insensitive line would have used the word retarded rather than autistic. That is actually what is so insulting. We as a society worked to eliminate that word because of all the underlying meaning and meanness that came with it. By substituting autistic all the writers did was pick on the newest group of people that are misunderstood and targeted by many. Mean is never funny!

  37. Rusty Shackleford says:

    Comedy is meant to have no bounds or limitations. They were not making that joke for the sake of making fun of autism, they did it to be funny. Whether or not this joke is funny to you is completely a matter of personal taste, but when you start worrying about upsetting any one group of people with any select bit of comedic material, you are left with almost nothing to make JOKES about. Comedy as a genre and as an art form sometimes offends and upsets and I could not be happier about that. Once comedy becomes safe, censored and cautious, we as a society are truly doomed.

  38. Patrice says:

    You are right. Comedy should not be censored. Comedians, however, do need to understand that taking the chance of going beyond certain boundaries will have repercussions. True comedy often makes a point while poking fun. Much of today’s comedy goes for the easy joke with cheap shots. while making no point at all.

  39. Debra says:

    Kyle, the comment did hurt people and this thread is the proof. You and your brother go watch the ridiculous movie and have a great time. I wish my son was as high functioning as your brother must be to go watch it with you. You are blessed and I see you have no clue to your good fortune. I imagine things would be different if you had to take your brother to the bathroom, bathe him, watch him 24/7, and try to figure out what he wants since he can’t speak for himself. Autism is not funny at all. AND Rusty, yes, since the new rate of autism is every 1 in every 88 children, you are right, we are doomed as a society.

  40. Amanda says:

    so it’s okay for me to say to a thin haired person? “what’s the matter, you have cancer?” or go to a chubby kid “what are you, a pig?” gees….being PC is NOT the point…being polite, is!

  41. jennifer furno says:

    I was the mother of a special needs child.. she had a rare seizure disorder that left her unable to speak or walk.. she passed away from the swine flu 2 years ago !!! My cousin’s son who was two at the time, was diagnosed with autism shortly after… Until who have a child with special needs, i guess you would find it hard to see why people would be hurt by these words !!!! As a parent you struggle everyday for any and all accecpetance for your precious child, it is not the jokes that hurt as much as the lack of empathy!!!! There is nothing funny about raising a child with a disability…It is hard work !!! it seems in this day and age it is okay to poke fun at the innocent who can not defend them selves…

  42. Nayma @ Charleen says:

    Charleen if I knew you in person I would definitely make you sorry for that comment.

  43. Cason says:

    As a step father of a 5 yr old child with autism…
    I can’t believe this movie included this line. Im SO not the easily offended type, but the fact that the producers happened to be so ignorant as to think this wouldn’t offend is mind boggling.
    To be fair, I absolutely loved the movie until that line, as well as loved it after the line.
    I was so disappointed when I heard it.
    The specificity of the insult is what hurt.

  44. APchwmisty says:

    Are you kidding me?? It’s a joke! The movie is a COMEDY. Why does everything have to be taken so seriously now days? If you don’t want jokes and want all seriousness you should probably sticks to documenties and an occasional drama. Comedies are about jokes and laughter and I thought the line along with many many others in that movie were hilarious. Autism is real, the disorder is serious but the movie ISN’T. How can you take away a serious message from a comedy; they are cops and they’re firing off guns in the park, stealing drugs from the evidence room, contributing to minors, school coaches are manufacturing and selling drugs called HFS (holy fckn sht), and ETC ETC ETC. Come on America know when to actually care about something and when to just laugh. “Seriously.”

  45. APchwmisty says:

    Nayma@Charleen… What would you do to Charleen or anybody for that matter that has an opinion similar to hers, like mine? Tell me since you’re so tough and wanna threaten people over the web. You’re a joke.

  46. Bebe says:

    I think this article missed the mark. Ice Cube was commenting on the overly meticulous behavior that Jonah’s character exhibited in order to make the chart, not that it was messy. Yes, this “OCD behavior” is a stereotype of autism that actually might have some basis. Still, I can see why people are upset. It was a low blow to joke about a developmental disorder.

  47. Jordan Martinez says:

    Get a grip, it’s a film and they mean nothing by it.

    I’m autistic and personally i find that comment absolutely hilarious BECAUSE it couldn’t be further from the truth.

    THAT’S THE POINT!

  48. YoMomma says:

    Ice Cube is an ignorant rap monkey. He is lucky someone put him in that stupid ass movie, so he will say whatever they give him on a script. The writers of that “joke” need to be shit and pissed on! Autism is no joke.

  49. Cesar says:

    Gentlemen, do not so sensitive !
    I know the pain they feel because I have Asperger’s , I grew up with absent fathers alone and had to handle the entire load , suffering and understand the world around me with its irregularities – including much bullying , I had to endure .
    I learned to have courage and face the people – though difficult . My 6 year old daughter to see things like this on TV , in school or other various means question me and I give a detailed answer and she gets quiet knowing that being special is not for everyone , and that everyone has their difficulties to resolve . As Jesus said : ” Whoever does not like a child will not be worthy to enter the Kingdom ” – Although I have 32 years I still feel like one.
    I did not let her see the film because of drinking, drugs , ballad , profanity , etc … but that scene the picture I imagined a tribute to autistic – no one could assemble a frame with a detailed and expert system (although not resolved ) without being someone with special abilities like some Savant ‘s Aspies , Autistic , among others . Remembered Sherlock Holmes 1 – The Movie – which is a character Aspie with sensory and investigative superhabilides .
    So that’s it . His children and relatives are special . Show it to them .

    Forgive me for writing . I’m from another country. I know that Google Translate is horrible and will translate ugly.

  50. Cesar says:

    Sorry , the movie Sherlock Holmes 2 – Game of Shadows.

  51. Cesar says:

    Remember that feeling of you may be transferred to children . If you guys feel joy in life they also feel . Feel hatred for every thing they hear , they feel terrified – because no autistic like fights or confusion . Teach what is good , pleasant and productive . The rest is nothing.
    Life is short to waste on this nonsense or foolish people .
    The world will not change , but our day can be beautiful .

  52. Cesar says:

    Another interesting film with map That reminded me : A Beautiful Mind (film ) . Watch !

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