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Robert Downey Jr praises Tropic Thunder blackface for ‘railing against tropes that aren’t right’

‘There used to be an understanding with an audience,’ actor said in response to increasing controversy over character in 2008 comedy film

Nicole Vassell
Monday 15 January 2024 11:29 GMT
Robert Downey Jr justifies blackface role in Tropic Thunder

Robert Downey Jr has reinforced his support of his divisive Tropic Thunder role, in which he played a character who used blackface.

The actor appeared in the 2008 war comedy, directed by Ben Stiller, playing Kirk Lazarus, an Australian method actor who temporarily darkens his skin to portray a Black character.

Downey Jr, 54, has repeatedly defended the character’s depiction in the years since the film’s release.

On the most recent edition of Rob Lowe’s Literally! podcast, theIron Manstar revisited the topic while discussing the Seventies sitcom All in the Family.

The Norman Lear-created series, which ran from 1971 to 1979, was groundbreaking in its approach to topics such as race and social justice, and included the perspective of a bigoted patriarch to push back against his views.

Downey Jr told Lowe his view that both the sitcom and Tropic Thunder made specific choices to highlight, through humour, how wrong the choices were.

Referring to a message that plays before reruns of All in the Family, the actor said: “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.”

Robert Downey Jr in ‘Tropic Thunder’ (Dreamworks Llc/Kobal/Shutterstock)

The All in the Family disclaimer reads: “The program you are about to see... 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.”

Downey Jr continued: “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.’

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“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.”

He continued: “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.”

Robert Downey Jr (Getty Images for FIJI Water)

The Oppenheimer actor previously shared his justification for the use of blackface in the film during an appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast in 2020, as well as admitting that his mother was “horrified” by the concept.

He recalled: “‘Bobby, I’m telling ya, I have a bad feeling about this.’ I was like, ‘Yeah me too, Mom.’”

Last year, Stiller – who also starred in Tropic Thunder – also expressed his satisfaction with the movie. Responding on X/Twitter to a fan who told him to “stop apologising” for the film, Stiller clarified that he’d done nothing of the sort.

“I make no apologies for Tropic Thunder. Don’t know who told you that,” he wrote on the social media platform in February 2023. “It’s always been a controversial movie since when we opened. Proud of it and the work everyone did on it.”

Elsewhere, Downey Jr entertained the audience at the Critics Choice Awards on Sunday (14 January), where he picked up the statuette for Best Supporting Actor for his antagonistic role in Oppenheimer.

During his acceptance speech, the actor read out several comments that the Critics Choice Association had previously made about him, including one that deemed one of his performances “sloppy, messy and lazy”.

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