Comedian Rosie Jones stands by Channel 4 documentary title amid backlash over ableist slur

Rosie Jones

Comedian Rosie Jones has defended the “shocking” use of an ableist slur in the title of her new Channel 4 documentary, which is set to explore the online abuse disabled people face on social media.

Comedy and shock value often go hand in hand – but when it comes to the title of Rosie Jones’s upcoming Channel 4 documentary, the lines have become more blurred than ever before by the comedian who expertly incorporates her ataxic cerebral palsy into her stand-up routines.

Titled Rosie Jones: Am I a R*tard?, the “unflinchingly personal” documentary is set to shine a light on the “horrific ferocity” of trolls who relentlessly target the queer comedian with rape and death threats because of her disability and sexuality.

However, while the content of the film will undoubtedly be difficult to watch for – not least when Jones “sets herself the challenge of directly confronting a troll” – the very title has already proved a turn off for some people, due to the use of ableist slur, “r*tard”.

Defending the decision, Jones took to Twitter to post a short video explaining the rationale behind incorporating the word into the title.

“I’ve made a documentary for Channel 4 about online abuse and the ableism that I, and all other disabled people, receive. The title of the film has a very shocking word in it. The R word,” she said.

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“I get it, a lot of people will find this shocking and upsetting. In my opinion, society doesn’t take this word and other ableist forms of language as seriously as any other form of abuse [faced by] any other minorities.

“So, I said to Channel 4: ‘Let’s do it, let’s tackle the problem head-on and use that word in the title and, hopefully, people will think twice about using [it] and other ableist slurs again’.”

The title has already attracted a hail storm of Twitter comments. But the criticism has also come from various contributors to the project, who have since withdrawn their consent to be involved.

According to The Independent, influencers Shelby Lynch, Kate Stanforth and Lucy Dawson reached the conclusion that they no longer wanted to be part of the project.

In a post addressing her 40,000 Instagram followers, Lynch wrote: “As some of you may know, we were asked to take part in a documentary about ableism and online trolling with a well-known disabled comedian. Talking about ableism on mainstream TV [is] obviously something that needs to be discussed but the way it’s happened isn’t something that I can support.

“We were told a few months ago that the documentary was going to include a slur that is used against disabled people and I was heart-broken. I didn’t want anything to do with the documentary unless the name was changed and we went backwards and forwards for what feels like for ever.”

Lynch added that she has “cried so many tears” over the documentary, before concluding that “it was decided that the three of us would be removed… instead of the name being changed.”

Stanforth, a ballerina as well as an influencer, posted a similar statement on her Instagram, echoing Lynch’s efforts to illustrate why they “think the title will be damaging to the disabled community” and why she tried to pile “major pressure” on Channel 4 to change it.

According to The Independent, model Dawson wrote that the documentary will “discuss real important topics,” but that she “definitely won’t be watching because it’s gonna be too triggering regardless of if it’s good or bad… because of what went on behind the scenes – a lot of what I haven’t even scratched the surface with”.

A Channel 4 spokesperson reportedly supported the title, stating: “This film is an authored documentary by Rosie Jones to raise awareness and educate viewers about the issue of ableism and the scale of abuse she and other disabled people face daily.

“The use of the R-word is within context of the subject matter being explored and specific to the abuse Rosie receives on social media. The film makes very clear it is an unacceptable and offensive ableist term and its inclusion was carefully considered in conversations with the editorial team, Rosie and a disability consultant.”

Jones previously highlighted the abuse she faces during an appearance on the BBC’s Access All podcast, saying she has been subjected to “literally every ableist abuse under the sun”.

She went on to say: “They told me that I should be in a cage. I shouldn’t be on TV. I should die. And it was because I was exposing myself to a different kind of audience,” she explained, following an appearance on BBC’s Question Time.

“I think Question Time is brilliant but it attracts a lot of angry people.”

The comedian is currently blazing a trail on the Triple Threat Tour. The triple threat concerned is “Gay, Disabled, Pr*ck”, and the tour includes a string of shows at London’s Soho Theatre. Tickets are available now.

There is currently no air date for Rosie Jones: Am I a R*tard?, although it is expected to be shown later this year.