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”. 

The 2008 comedy film was directed by Ben Stiller and stars Downey Jr alongside Jack Black, Jay Baruchel and Brandon T. Jackson as a group of actors making a Vietnam War film that are forced to survive in the jungle after being stranded. 

Downey Jr. plays Kirk Lazarus, an Australian method actor who undergoes ‘pigmentation alteration’ surgery to temporarily darken his skin for his portrayal of a black character. 

Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr. in ‘Tropic Thunder’. CREDIT: AJ Pics/Alamy

Speaking on Rob Lowe’s Literally! podcast, Downey Jr. defended the decision to use ‘blackface’ makeup in the film, saying: “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.” 

It is not the first time that Downey Jr. has addressed the issue. In 2020, he said that he’d had a “bad feeling” about the backlash the film could provoke, but said that he did it to “hold up to nature the insane self-involved hypocrisy of artists and what they think they’re allowed to do on occasion”. 

Downey Jr. received his second Oscar nomination for Tropic Thunder, for Best Supporting Actor, losing out to Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds

In December, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige shut down rumours that Downey Jr. could return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, after his Iron Man character was killed off in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame

“We are going to keep that moment and not touch that moment again,” Feige said. “We all worked very hard for many years to get to that, and we would never want to magically undo it in any way.” 

Additionally, Avengers: Endgame directors Anthony and Joe Russo shared that Downey Jr. was “reluctant” to re-shoot a single line of dialogue after officially wrapping his scenes. 

Robert Downey Jr. most recently starred as Lewis Strauss in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer alongside Cillian Murphy, Florence Pugh and more. In a five-star reviewNME wrote, “Oppenheimer is a monumental achievement in grown-up filmmaking.” 

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