Robert Downey Jr. doesn’t regret blackface role in Tropic Thunder

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

By the time 2006 rolled around Robert Downey Jr.'s career was shaky at best. The actor had been arrested multiple times in the mid to late 90s, spending time in jail and extended stints in rehab. Although sober for several years and with his career finally starting to make a comeback, studio execs weren't exactly thrilled when Jon Favreau cast Downey as Tony Stark/Iron Man. Marvel Studios considered him a liability and Favreau had to fight for Downey to keep the role famously saying, "The best and worst moments of Robert's life have been in the public eye. He had to find an inner balance to overcome obstacles that went far beyond his career. That's Tony Stark." Thankfully everything worked out for all parties involved. 2008's IRON MAN became a massive hit, helped kick off the MCU, and solidified Downey's comeback.

Three months after IRON MAN smashed its way into theaters, another film from Robert Downey Jr. landed at the cineplex. Director Ben Stiller's TROPIC THUNDER proved to be the comedy smash hit of the year gaining critical and box office success. However, the film carried its own share of controversy due to Downey's character, Australian actor Kirk Lazarus. In the film Lazarus undergoes pigmentation alteration surgery in order to become a black man for a Vietnam War film. The role sparked outrage among those who felt Downey's decision to use blackface was inherently racist.

Almost twelve years have come and gone since TROPIC THUNDER hit theaters and the movie and political landscapes have changed drastically. It's highly unlikely a film like TROPIC THUNDER could be made today. In a recent interview on "The Joe Rogan Experience" podcast, Robert Downey Jr. discussed the role and if he had any regrets about the part that earned him an Academy Award nomination. While Downey understands the negative reaction, he still feels he took the role for the right reasons:

“My mother was horrified. ‘Bobby, I’m telling ya, I have a bad feeling about this.’ I was like, ‘Yeah me too, mom.’ When Ben called and said, ‘Hey I’m doing this thing’ – you know I think Sean Penn had passed on it or something. Possibly wisely. And I thought, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that and I’ll do that after Iron Man.’ Then I started thinking, ‘This is a terrible idea, wait a minute.’ Then I thought, ‘Well hold on dude, get real here, where is your heart? My heart is…I get to be black for a summer in my mind, so there’s something in it for me. The other thing is, 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, just my opinion. [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.”

While I certainly appreciate how inappropriate and racist the legacy of blackface carries with it, I don't believe for one second that Downey is a malicious racist. To me the part was always a commentary on how narcissistic and self-obsessed actors can be. Sometimes they go to the extreme in such a way that they lose perspective. Kirk Lazarus' actions were meant to be a form of hyperbole. If anything the role shined a light on how ridiculous, wrong, and insensitive blackface is – something Robert Downey Jr. rightly points out. However, I'm fully aware that my perspective is coming from someone who's a white male in his 40s so I'm self-aware enough to know I could be wrong.

So what do you guys think of Robert Downey Jr.'s comments? Were you offended by TROPIC THUNDER? Did you think it was a great movie? Could this type of satirical comedy be made in 2020? Let us know in the comments below!

Source: YouTube

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