How would you feel if you caught someone making fun of your dad or grandad, who suffers from a debilitating disease like Alzheimer’s?
That's what I thought.
And that’s exactly why so many were outraged over the recent announcement that Will Ferrell will portray former President Ronald Reagan in a new movie in which he’s both producing and starring.
Variety broke the story two days ago:
Penned by Mike Rosolio, the story begins at the start of the then-president’s second term when he falls into dementia and an ambitious intern is tasked with convincing the commander-in-chief that he is an actor playing the president in a movie.
Backlash was pretty immediate, led by the Reagan family themselves (who are still mourning the loss of Nancy, who passed away earlier this year). Reagan’s oldest son Michael Reagan tweeted this:
#Alzheimers is not a comedy to the 5 million people who are suffering with the decease,it first robs you of your mind and then it kills you-; Michael Reagan (@ReaganWorld) April 29, 2016
That was followed by Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis, who posted an open letter to Ferrell on her blog.
Here are a few excerpts:
Alzheimer’s doesn’t care if you are President of the United States or a dockworker. It steals what is most precious to a human being--memories, connections, the familiar landmarks of a lifetime that we all come to rely on to hold our place secure in this world and keep us linked to those we have come to know and love.
I watched as fear invaded my father’s eyes--this man who was never afraid of anything. I heard his voice tremble as he stood in the living room and said, “I don’t know where I am.” I watched helplessly as he reached for memories, for words, that were suddenly out of reach and moving farther away. For ten long years he drifted -; past the memories that marked his life, past all that was familiar…and mercifully, finally past the fear.
There was laughter in those years, but there was never humor.
Of course, it isn’t just the Reagan family who find this idea in very poor taste. One article posted just yesterday on Yahoo, highlighted backlash to the planned film. It’s already been commented on over 4,000 times--with most comments being overwhelmingly negative.
But in a stunning turn of events, Emily Smith of Page Six reported that Ferrell has pulled out of the project:
The 48-year-old comic confirmed Friday that while he had seen the script and considered signing on to star in and produce “Reagan,” he was no longer going ahead with the project.
A spokesperson for Will said, “The REAGAN script is one of a number of scripts that had been submitted to Will Ferrell which he had considered. While it is by no means a ‘Alzheimer’s comedy’ as has been suggested, Mr. Ferrell is not pursuing this project.”
“I am so relieved that Will has decided against this film,” Davis told Page Six. “I can’t imagine that anybody else would sign onto it.”
What Emotional Intelligence Has to Do With It
Most would say this was a common sense issue. Or basic human decency. Or courtesy.
And you know what? They’re right.
But that’s exactly what makes qualities like emotional intelligence so valuable: Emotional intelligence, also known as EI or EQ (for Emotional Intelligence Quotient), describes a person's ability to recognize emotions, to understand their powerful effect, and to use that information to guide thinking and behavior. EQ helps you to better understand yourself--and others.
Believe me, I get it. When your job is to make others laugh (like Ferrell), it seems that emotional intelligence is the last quality you’re trying to develop.
But it’s more complex than that--developing EQ helps you predict how others are going to react. No doubt, Ferrell’s got no problem ruffling a few feathers. And if he did originally sign up for this project, he must have expected a fair amount of controversy.
But Ferrell apparently realized: Even for the sake of comedy, there’s such a thing as going too far.
The truth is, we all make dumb mistakes. Somehow, we all happen to miss the elephant in the room--sometimes. (All I can say, is I’m glad I’m not famous.)
But when we make it a habit to practice qualities like empathy--to ask ourselves how others might feel about our decisions, it keeps those mistakes to a minimum.
Kudos to Ferrell for making the right decision on this one.
Let’s all learn from it.