Comedian Will Ferrell is notorious for pushing comedic boundaries, but his latest project is blurring the lines between comedy and ableism. On April 27, 2016, it was announced that Will Ferrell is set to star as President Ronald Reagan in the new dramedy Reagan, a movie that surrounds Reagan’s second term as president as he begins to battle the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Throughout the movie, an intern takes on the task of convincing the suffering president that he is really just an actor playing the president in a movie. The film was written by screenwriter Mike Rosolio in 2015 and posted on Hollywood’s annual Black List, an unofficial outlet that publishes Hollywood’s best unproduced scripts. The script immediately blew up and flew to the top of the list, catching the eye of many Hollywood producers, including Ferrell himself. Millions of people, including the children of Ronald Reagan himself, have spoken up about their opposition to the movie treating a serious mental illness as something comedic.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that destroys memory and other important mental functions. Reagan, who died of Alzheimer’s complications in 2004, was rumored to be suffering from the disease during the 1984 presidential campaign and was later officially diagnosed in 1994. His family remained by his side throughout the progression of his disease, and now that it is being treated as a punchline for the premise of a movie, his children are infuriated, particularly his two oldest living children Patti Davis and Michael Reagan.
“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,” Davis wrote in a letter to Ferrell. “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have — I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either... I look into haunted eyes that remind me of my own when my father was ill…Perhaps you would like to explain to them how this disease is suitable material for a comedy.” Michael Reagan has also expressed his outrage over the offensive movie in a series of tweets. “What an outrage…Alzheimer’s is not a joke. You should be ashamed, all of you.”
Much to the public’s satisfaction, two days following the announcement of Ferrell’s new controversial role, his representatives released an official statement announcing his withdrawal from the film. A spokesman for the Anchorman actor 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 an 'Alzheimer's comedy' as has been suggested, Mr. Ferrell is not pursuing this project." While the project is still in place, plans for the film have been delayed dramatically due to Ferrell’s withdrawal. The project has not yet been picked up by a distributor, director, and financing company, and the public hopes, for the sake of common decency, it never will.