Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What Say You: Robert Downey Jr. In Blackface

On August 13, Tropic Thunder will hit theaters. If the trailer holds true, this looks to be a great comedy about Hollywood and action pictures. And as the spoof to end all spoofs on method acting, Robert Downey's character Kirk Lazarus surgically has the color of his skin changed to play an African American soldier in the movie.

There have been more than a few articles written about Downey's character in this movie and I guess I'm a little surprised. Of course it's impossible to look at this role historically and not think of Stepin Fetchit, Amos 'n' Andy even Judy Garland and Bing Crosby. But I certainly wouldn't put Downey's character in the same controversial category as these other roles. But hey, maybe I'm just an insensitive white guy.

Should Downey's character in Tropic Thunder be scrutinized along with the others, or have we all just become a bunch of politically correct ninnies?



Fletch said...

The only thing controversial here is the double standard. I don't have a problem with Downey here or the Wayans bros in White Chicks - my only problem is that there was apparently no "controversy" when Chicks was released.

He's not playing a black man. He's playing an Australian actor nuts enough to play a black man. Maybe we should direct some ire towards them damn Aussies... ;)

Fox said...

I can't wait to see this film. For many reasons, but a major one is for what you just mentioned. Downey's character/performance could say many smart things about identity, sensitivity, ego... or, it could totally flop and fall on it's face.

One thing I'm sure of (I think) is that Stiller and Downey don't seem to be out to shock or push buttons or be politically incorrect just to be politically incorrect. They don't seem to be those type of guys.

We shall see. I saw a new trailer this weekend and laughed my head off.

PIPER said...


You're correct about White Chicks. I would say that nothing made me more uncomfortable race-wise than Spike Lee's Bamboozled.


I really have yet to see Downey Jr. do anything poorly. And I agree with you about not doing it to push buttons. I just think they thought it would be a good spoof on method acting.

Garrett Sorrels said...

It seems silly that there would be controversy over this. I honestly thought it was making light of the Daniel day Lewis's / Christian bale's in that they never break character while filming a movie.I realized he was black but never felt like it was a sensitive subject. BTw, no idea if that's 100% true on Lewis and bale breaking character but I've heard that. Correct if inaccurate.

Anonymous said...

I don't see the controversy of a white actor who says he can play any part - even if it's African American.

The last legitimate complaint I remember was when Memoirs of a Geisha was released and the two lead parts - both Japanese - went to nonJapanese actresses, Zhang Ziyi (China) and Michelle Yeoh (Malaysia).

Anonymous said...

Well I've seen the film and I'm pretty confident any "controversy" will disappear once it comes out.

Downey Jr isn't trying to play a stereotype like Mickey Rooney was in Breakfast at Tiffany's nor is his role played for laughs. Which is the genius of the entire thing. They have taken a truly absurd concept and play it totally straight and respectful, which makes the setup even funnier.

If you think Ledger's performance was Oscar worthy, wait till you get a load of Downey Jr. It's the best comedic performance I have ever seen and I don't think it is even close.

Evan Waters said...

Well, as the trailer makes clear, "I'm a dude who's playing a dude controlled by another dude!"

If anything I think it's mocking "Miss Saigon Syndrome" rather than indulging it.

Keith said...

I do think that we are getting too PC. I hope this will shake things up. There does seem to be a double standard.

Captain Incredible said...

To quote Gary Coleman: "What you talkin' about, Willis?"

The word is euxlaq, by the way - isn't that a form of laxative?

PIPER said...

Jeez, all this Oscar talk about comedies and comic book movies.

Matt, I think Robert Downey Jr. is one of the best actors of our time. And if he's truly off the stuff, he deserves an Oscar just for getting himself clean and sober and continuing with a brilliant career. It would be ironic that he would receive it for a comic piece... although I would say that what makes Downey so good is his ability to weave comedy into every role.


I wouldn't be surprised if those stories are true. I had heard of Val Kilmer doing that during The Doors. No one was to refer to him as anything but Jim Morrison. Give me a break. I'm surprised this spoof hasn't been done before.

Anonymous said...

I've seen the film as well, and Downey, Jr. is incredible.

If there's a drawback, it's that Stiller hedges his bets a bit too much by having a real black man provide the PC commentary on the character. It tends to grind the comedy (and the satire) to a halt.

Though Downey, Jr. clearly is channelling Fred Williamson, he's not actually satirizing Williamson. He is definitely making fun of Russell Crowe though!

PIPER said...

Making fun of Russell Crowe? Like that's hard.

Anonymous said...

Making fun of Russell Crowe isn't hard, but it sure is dangerous.

PIPER said...

My rules when making fun of Russell Crowe.

1) Make sure he's not in the same room as me when I make fun of him.

2) If he is in the same room, make sure there aren't any phones around.

Hugo Fuchs said...

BS PCness... lovely. I'm sure you heard all the controversy of Eddie Murphy in Coming to America playing a white part. No? Probably because there wasn't any. Well a couple compliments, but no controversy.

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