Robert Downey Jr. Defends Tropic Thunder Blackface As An ‘Exception’ To The Rule

by : Julia Banim on : 22 Jan 2020 11:48
Robert Downey Jr. Defends Tropic Thunder Blackface As An 'Exception' To The RuleJRE Clips/YouTube/Paramount Pictures

It’s mad to think Tropic Thunder came out 12 years ago. Not a massive amount of time in the grand scheme of things, but a lifetime of difference in movie land.

The satirical comedy skewered many tropes of the Hollywood action movie, to critical acclaim. However, some moments are pretty eyebrow-raising in retrospect.


First of all, there was Simple Jack – a film within the film where Ben Stiller’s character played an individual with learning difficulties in the cynical hopes of bagging an Oscar. And there was also the sight of Robert Downey Jr. in full blackface.

You can watch an interview with the Iron Man actor about the controversial part below:

Of course, Downey Jr. was actually playing an actor who was wearing blackface for a role, poking fun at the ridiculousness of his character and the industry rather than making a deliberate attempt to hurt people.


Downey Jr. played Australian method actor Kirk Lazarus, a thespian who committed himself to the part of Staff Sergeant Lincoln Osiris by undergoing ‘pigmentation alteration’ surgery.

Lazarus’s rigidly method ways – refusing to break character even when the cameras were off – got plenty of laughs at the cinema. However, it’s difficult to imagine how a similar character would be received in 2020, with greater sensitivity now expected from filmmakers.

Downey Jr. has now spoken out about his controversial role during an appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, revealing his mum had been ‘horrified’:

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’.

Tropic ThunderParamount Pictures

Downey Jr. explained he’d initially had second thoughts about accepting the role, but eventually decided to go for it, seeing it as an opportunity to blast the ‘self-involved hypocrisy of artists’:

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.

The Dolittle star went on to say he had received a positive response from around ‘90%’ of his ‘black friends’:


[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% 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 defence, Tropic Thunder is about how wrong [blackface] is, so I take exception.

Tropic ThunderParamount Pictures

Downey Jr. received nominations for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars, Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards, losing out to Heath Ledger’s legendary performance in The Dark Knight.

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Julia Banim

Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.

Topics: Film and TV, blackface, joe rogan, Robert Downey Jr, The Joe Rogan Experience


JRE Clips/YouTube
  1. JRE Clips/YouTube

    Could You Make Tropic Thunder Today? w/Robert Downey Jr. | Joe Rogan