Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Keep "The King's Speech" R-rated, please.....

Good evening everyone, I begin this blog entry with something I find very interesting, and for some readers, controversial As a person who stutters, there are many different ways to explore this topic, but yet I want to present a debate for both sides that is fair and just. The Weinstein Company, which is the studio behind the Academy Award-winning "The King's Speech," has made a decision to re-release the movie on April 1. This is not an uncommon move for many movies that have been the lucky recipient of a date with Oscar, especially for ones that may have struggled at the box office to attract an audience or want to showcase the film for as long as possible. But what was more shocking was the fact that the new version is "sanitized," and is being rated PG-13. The studio in its press release, lauds the fact that "This action enables those to whom it speaks most directly-young people who are troubled by stuttering, bullying, and other trials-to see it." Now although the studio has not said what specific cuts were made, it is a safe assumption to say that there is one scene which is probably being referenced to. Out of sheer frustration, Colin Firth, who was nothing short of brilliant, swears continuously with the F-bomb to try and express himself. Now we have all heard this word and pretty much like it or not, it is a part of the modern-day vernacular. After all, try and find one person in this lifetime who has not swore using an obscene expression. This one scene is very critical to his performance, and a central theme for the emotional experiences he is going through. In fact, Firth has gone on record in saying "The film should stand as it is." It is always an option for a movie to be re-submitted to the MPAA for an appeal of its rating. I remember when "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" was given the R rating (Under 17 requires an accompanying adult or guardian), and Universal Pictures felt that would prevent teens from seeing it because Adam Sandler is a big draw. So after a few edits, the PG-13 rating was applied. And the MPAA has been a firm proponent that these ratings are guidelines only, they are not meant to be taken as gospel. I want to say emphatically that as a person who stutters, I applaud the fact that more people will be able to see the movie. But what makes me sad is that the studio needs to edit the movie to do so. Watching him struggle forming his words hit home for me because when I am in a funk, I do the same thing. I've struggled with my speech the past month and many times wanted to yell out "Fuck! I can't say the word," but I haven't done so. Probably because I'd be looked at in public. But if you think about it, imagine what the reaction would be if other movies were edited the same way. Look at "Schindler's List." How would a history teacher feel if all the executions were taken away-that is a very upsetting part of our history, but yet it needs to be told. What about "Saving Private Ryan?" How would it look if all the graphic violence was edited out because a student found it upsetting that a soldier stepped on a land mine and his whole body was blown up as a result. Citing another example, take 1988's "The Accused," with Jodie Foster. The movie was hailed for her performance which also won her the Oscar as a rape victim, and the film was mentioned for its accurate portrayal of a victim (and there is a graphic gang rape scene as well). If that was removed, what might the reaction be? When I watched the movie, I felt that was I viewing it from two different perspectives: One as a regular person, but another one as an advocate for the National Stuttering Association and a person who stutters. In many cases, the two can overlap. I think ultimately, the decision on where we stand regarding the editing version is up to each one of us. But there can be no denying the impact this movie has had, and will continue to have for future generations of people who stutter. I think we also need to realize that we are responsible for our own judgments about the movie and it the rating. There may be some who think the R rating automatically means the kiss of death for a movie but there are much worse things to see. I vividly remember watching "Basic Instinct" in theaters and feeling disgusted at first because the film shows human sexuality in a perverse manner. A healthy relationship isn't about S&M or fetishes. It's about caring for someone and loving them deeply in spite of their flaws. But looking back on it, I realize it was one director's interpretation of what love is. My interpretation of the movie: Keep "The King's Speech" proud. Keep it the way it is. My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

To comment or not to comment...that is the ultimate question

Good evening everyone,

We've all had moments when we have desperately wanted to turn back the hands of time. For instance, when we've hurt someone or done something that has caused irreparable harm to others. In that category we can also include opening of the mouth and saying something that is inappropriate. Those who read my blog on a regular basis know how passionate I am about all things stuttering. But for me, this particular entry is a very personal one.

This past Saturday I happened to be taking a nap while listening to the sounds of one of our all-news stations, 1010WINS (, and while I usually keep it on for the purpose of knowing what time it is as well as swearing by their live Accuweather forecasts, I was jarred from my sleep by a comment that incensed me.

The former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, was apparently quoted as saying that when it come to President Barack Obama's policies on Libya, he was a "stuttering weakling." Now I want to make one thing emphatically clear. My blog has never been about politics or whatever ideologies people believe in. But any time a comment is made about stuttering, I will be the first to respond. And boy, did I have a lot to say on this.

To be clear, I was faced with some conflicting emotions on this, whether I should comment on this or not. After all, this isn't the first time someone has said something derogatory about a rival or a competitor. And probably after three weeks, we'll all forget he even mentioned this. But I know as a person who stutters, there could be no way in good conscience I could let this go. I am very proud to be an advocate who stutters, and whenever support is needed for anything stuttering, I am often the first one who will happily volunteer-not because I have to, but because I want to. We all make our mark on this world in different ways-some lecture. Some paint and contribute timeless pieces to museums. Others write about the world and how it can be changed. Well, my way of making this world better is to educate and empower people who stutter. That is my mission, and my work is never done.

These days, it seems like there is a strong trend to hold people accountable for what they say. Sure, being a politician can get ugly. We have watched the commercials ("Candidate A raised taxes! Candidate B fathered a child out of wedlock!") as mud is thrown at each other. It seems like any sense of civility is fake, even at debates ("I want to say how honored I am to be here with my worthy adversary...). But corporations and other businesses are very quick to distance themselves from incendiary comments. I can remember a few years ago when Jeremy Shockey, the former tight end for the New York Giants, made a comment about the fans at a home game against Miami Dolphins, because they left early. Apparently he didn't realize that the fans left early because Yom Kippur was beginning at sundown, and very quickly the Giants had to issue a press release apologizing for his comments. According to Paul Schwartz of the New York Post, John Mara, who was the vice-president of the team, acknowledged that "Shockey is not going to be close to being aware of that." And I'm sure he was chastised about it privately. While it is easy to admire the ex-mayor for his leadership during America's darkest hour when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked, I can't help but feel he should have known better than to make a comment like that. Consider the fact that New York City is the most diverse place on the planet, you'd think he would be more accommodating. After all, this is a city where an Orthodox Jew and Muslim can ride side by side by the subway, or even be friends, and no one would think twice about it.

I did write a letter to him and I addressed my feelings in a diplomatic manner. As to whether I will get any response from him, that remains to be seen. But let me ask you. If we don't stand up for ourselves as people who stutter, then who will? People who stutter are not weak. On the contrary, they are some of the most strongest people I know. My fellow members of the National Stuttering Association are driven and they will never let their speech stand in the way. They are my strength everlasting.

My name is Steven Kaufman, and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

All Hail The Conquering Hero...King George VI!!!!

Hello everyone!

First, I would like to apologize for not writing on blog frequently. I have to admit that a few things have come up, but now that I am back, I hope to contribute on a weekly basis and continue to share my thoughts about stuttering with all of you.

I still get chills when I think about Feb. 27th, at 8 p.m. The significance of this date will forever be remembered for the Oscars. As a movie buff, most fans watch the Oscars for the key awards: Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and so on. It is well worth it to "suffer" through the technical awards for cinematography and special effects. And despite the fact that we all sit glued to our televisions and marvel at all the celebrities in their gowns that cost a small fortune and their extolling the virtues of their designers, we can't help but wonder what it would be like to be there and witness Hollywood's biggest night, while simultaneously eating a pizza and watching Anne Hathaway and James Franco struggle to live up to the standards set by Bob Hope, and Billy Crystal. You can even add Hugh Jackman's name onto that list.

But as a person who stutters, tonight was going to a defining moment for those who struggle with this communication disorder, as well as SLPs and graduate students looking to enter the field. "The King's Speech" was nominated for 12 Oscars, and was pitted against "The Social Network" in most of the major categories. You often notice that when the celebrities are interviewed on the red carpet, a common cliché is "Well, it's such a thrill to be nominated." Yes, to an extent that is true. Just by the fact that this movie brought tremendous recognition to the cause of stuttering awareness was truly inspiring. Myself, and many other chapter leaders (as well as NSA members) were interviewed by many newspapers, and even radio stations. There were major publications such as The Buffalo News and The Washington Post, and one of our members who works heavily in Family Programs was interviewed on a radio broadcast in Detroit. Another chapter leader appeared on a morning news show in Syracuse. This media campaign, which was orchestrated by the NSA, was something to celebrate and admire. But little did we know that the special night was just beginning.

You see, David Seidler who wrote the original screenplay for the movie, is a person who stutters. He also happens to be our keynote speaker for the 2011 National Stuttering Association annual conference, being held in the great state of Texas. A native of London, but also a Long Islander (who grew up in Great Neck), Seidler's first screenplay was for the 1988 movie "Tucker: A Man And His Dream," starring Jeff Bridges. According to Wikipedia, Seidler located the son of Lionel Logue, the speech therapist who helped King George VI with his stammering. The son, Valentine Logue, was a retired brain surgeon who was eager to share the work of his father, but there was one caveat: He had to receive written authorization from the Queen Mother. After reaching out to her, the Queen's secretary wrote back and politely requested he cease work on the project during her lifetime. In 2005, Seidler decided to pick up where he left off.

Fast forward six years, and that brings us to the moment when Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin, two winners themselves, uttered the phrase that people who stutter have been waiting a lifetime for. "And the Oscar goes to...David Seidler, for "The King's Speech." Within 30 seconds, every member of the NSA Nation who was on Facebook immediately started to post congratulatory messages. "You are my hero," one young woman said. Another one said simply, "He did it!" But there was one more moment, and to quote Whitney Houston, it was one moment in time: "I accept this award on behalf of all the stutterers throughout the world. We have a voice, we have been heard, thanks to you, the Academy." I ran outside in a flash, while my parents had an incredibly bewildered look on their face. " I started my car, and drove up and down the street, honking in pure delirium and sheer joy. But the night was just getting started. Best Director? Check. Best Actor, Colin Firth? Yes. Best Picture? Damn Skippy!

There can be no doubt that Seidler's words have resonated with everyone who stutters. Yes, we have a voice. There is not any reason why we should not be heard. If you scroll onto my Facebook page, you'll notice that where the personal picture spot is, there's a poster of "The King's Speech." I think it's safe to say that photo is going to remain there forever.

I have a good friend and fellow person who stutters who also runs her own blog, "Make Room For The Stuttering" (you can find it at who recently posed an interesting question about the movie, and the title says it all: "What Happens When They Forget?" After I started reading it, I realized everything she said is on point. To quote her verbatim, "We can't complacently ride the coattails of this movie." Truer words have never been said. When I saw that line, I couldn't help but think of the movie "Schindler's List." Steven Spielberg has stated time and again in interviews that this movie is the most personal to him, because many of those Holocaust survivors are dying off and their stories go with them. Despite the fact that the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC is a living testament to that atrocity, there are ignorant people who continue to deny it happened, saying it was a conspiracy or some other nonsensical statement. Well, "The King's Speech" is in a similar vein in the sense that we MUST continue to advocate and empower each other, and those future SLPs as well. We cannot allow anyone else to do that for us. Our stories need to be told. And there is proof of that-more people who stutter are doing public speaking. I absolutely LOVE that!

What "The King's Speech" did on Oscar night was fire a shot for stuttering awareness heard around the world. I like using that phrase because it rings. There are good shots, like this one. There can also be shots that tear a nation apart, like the shot that started the Civil War at Fort Sumter, near Charleston, S.C.

But this shot can be crystal clear. All Hail The King!

My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.