Robert Downey Jr. Still Defends ‘Tropic Thunder’ Blackface
Ben Stiller’s Hollywood studio satire Tropic Thunder ambushed moviegoers nearly 12 years ago. And yet after all this time, there’s one aspect of this wild ride of a movie we can’t seem to fully comprehend — Stiller’s decision to put Robert Downey Jr. in blackface for the role of Kirk Lazarus, and RDJ’s subsequent agreement to this decision. Downey Jr. addresses the issue in an episode of The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, in support of his equally-baffling Dolittle. While he understands that his role in Tropic Thunder ruffled feathers in a major way, he does his best to justify the thought process behind the problematic character choice:
[Ben] knew exactly what the vision for this was, he executed it, it was impossible to not have it be an offensive nightmare of a movie. And 90 per cent of my black friends were like, ‘Dude, that was great.’ I can’t disagree with [the other 10 per cent], but I know where my heart lies. I think that it’s never an excuse to do something that’s out of place and out of its time, but to me it blasted the cap on [the issue]. I think having a moral psychology is job one. Sometimes, you just gotta go, ‘Yeah I effed up.’ In my defense, ‘Tropic Thunder’ is about how wrong [blackface] is, so I take exception.
Tropic Thunder came to Downey Jr. right after he revived his career with Iron Man, which helped to launch the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He admits that accepting Stiller’s offer seemed like a “terrible idea” at the time. But on further examination, the role of an overzealous method actor that alters his skin pigmentation for a character was an opportunity to make a statement. Downey Jr. explains that he wanted to expose the “insane self-involved hypocrisy of artists and what they think they’re allowed to do on occasion.”
Despite its layers of controversy, Downey Jr.’s role earned him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars, Golden Globes, and Screen Actors Guild Awards. That’s got to be three more nominations than he will see for Dolittle.
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