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Robert Downey Jr. Defends ‘Tropic Thunder’ ‘Blackface’ as “Railing Against Tropes That Were Not Right”


Robert Downey Jr. has defended the ‘blackface’ that his character uses in the 2008 film Tropic Thunder, saying it “railed against tropes that were not right”.

via: Variety

The 2008 comedy from director Ben Stiller cast the “Iron Man” star as an egotistical Australian thespian who takes Method acting to an extreme by undergoing “pigmentation alteration” surgery to darken his skin in order to play a Black solider in a war movie. Some have come down on Downey Jr. in recent years for doing Blackface in the film, but the actor has never agreed with the backlash.

During an appearance on Rob Lowe’s “Literally!” podcast while on his “Oppenheimer” awards campaign trail, Downey Jr. drew a line between “Tropic Thunder” and Norman Lear’s iconic sitcom “All in the Family.” He said both works shine a light on “tropes that are not right and had been perpetuated for too long” and faced criticism from those who weren’t seeing the bigger picture.

“I was looking back at ‘All in the Family,’ and they had a little disclaimer that they were running at the beginning of the show,” Downey Jr. said about the backlash Lear sitcom’s face for tackling social topics like racism in a way network television never had before. “People should look it up, exactly what it is, because it is an antidote to this clickbait addiction to grievance that [people seem] to have with everything these days.”

The “All in the Family” disclaimer read: “The program you are about to see is ‘All in the Family.’ It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices, and concerns. By making them a source of laughter, we hope to show — in a mature fashion — just how absurd they are.”

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“The language was saying, ‘Hey, this is the reason that we’re doing these things that, in a vacuum, you could pick apart and say are wrong and bad,’” Downey Jr. continued. “There used to be an understanding with an audience, and I’m not saying that the audience is no longer understanding — I’m saying that things have gotten very muddied. The spirit that [Ben] Stiller directed and cast and shot ‘Tropic Thunder’ in was, essentially, as a railing against all of these tropes that are not right and [that] had been perpetuated for too long.”

During a 2020 episode of “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast, Downey Jr. recalled his mother being “horrified” when she learned of his role in “Tropic Thunder.” His mother told him: “Bobby, I’m telling ya, I have a bad feeling about this.”

Downey Jr. said at the time that while he also had a bad feeling about “Tropic Thunder” and the potential backlash it could generate, he still thought to himself: “I get to hold up to nature the insane self-involved hypocrisy of artists and what they think they’re allowed to do on occasion.”

“[Ben Stiller] 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,” Downey Jr. added. “And 90% of my Black friends were like, ‘Dude, that was great.’ I can’t disagree with [the other 10%], 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.”

Downey Jr. earned a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for his performance in “Tropic Thunder,” a category he’s now back in the running for thanks to “Oppenheimer.” He recently picked up the best supporting actor prize at the Golden Globes and has nominations from the Critics’ Choice Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards.



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