Outraged Young Folks Are Just Learning That Robert Downey Jr. Once Played Blackface Character in ‘Tropic Thunder’

In 2008, Robert Downy Jr. and Ben Stiller starred in an action-comedy called “Tropic Thunder,” the movie was a satire exposing the foolishness, insensitivity, greed, shallowness, and unbounded ego of the Hollywood system. Now in this context, Robert Downey Jr. (RDJ) played an Australian actor named Kirk Lazurus, who, in a wildly-misguided and grossly insensitive attempt to showcase his acting talent, plays a very cartoonish black soldier in the fictional movie within the movie. You see, the film is about them filming the fictional action movie “Tropic Thunder.” In the film, Lazurus says something that really gives you a sense that this guy has no clue who he really is, stating: “I know who I am. I’m the dude playin’ the dude, disguised as another dude!” Now, a lot of folks have apparently just discovered this movie and are now shocked by the fact that the face of Marvel Studios had once played a blackface character in a major Hollywood film. There has been a flood of social media posts asking if anyone noticed this, as though no one caught on until they stumbled across their dad’s old DVDs. The answer is, of course, yes, people noticed it. In fact, RDJ is asked about this role in just about every interview he sits down for these days. Jeffrey Lyles, a Black film critic, addressed this non-issue when he wrote a review of the movie, giving it 8/10.
“Kirk’s decision to make his character a black man complete with dark makeup would have been more than a tad controversial if not for Chino continually calling Kirk out for trying to act “black.” While Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson won’t be leading Thunder boycotts, the film has garnered a significant backlash from mental disability advocates” – Jeffrey Lyles, film critic
And that’s right; he even received an Oscar nomination for the role. As the quote suggested, his blackface character was far from the most politically incorrect aspect of the film, the film’s director Ben Stiller, who also stars in the movie as actor Tugg Speedman, who was trying to use “Tropic Thunder” as an opportunity to rebound after playing a disastrous role of a mentally challenged man named “Simple Jack,” a role that was an astonishing insulting caricature of someone with a mental disability. In the movie, RDJ’s character (while still in character) talks to Speedman about his choice to play “Simple Jack,” and says a line that had really got folks worked up. Those who’ve seen the movie know which one I’m talking about. This newest non-controversy boils down to context; the truth is that art has a way of aging quite poorly, very quickly, especially comedies. Could anyone ever imagine Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” coming out today? Or any of the host of movies made in the ’70s and ’80s touching on various stereotypes? As another Black film critic, Wesley Morris (who gave the movie 3/4) said when the movie first premiered:
“In some future time we may look back on ‘Tropic Thunder’ and ask, ‘What were we thinking?’ But a movie that asks Cruise to slap the air as part of a horse-riding dance popularized by the R&B singer Ginuwine takes some time to recover from. So does one in which Downey appears to be playing Jude Law playing Kirk Douglas playing the late Bernie Mac. “ – Wesley Morris, The Boston Globe
We’ll look like that critic had psychic powers because that’s just what’s happening today. Here’s a very candid interview Robert Downey Jr. did with Joe Rogan talking about his controversial role and if he would have played that role in today’s climate.