Robert Downey Jr. Plays Black Actor in Tropic Thunder


Yep, that’s Robert Downey Jr. between Ben Stiller and Jack Black.

Entertainment Weekly explains the premise: “Robert Downey Jr. plays Kirk Lazarus, a very serious Oscar-winning actor cast in the most expensive Vietnam war epic ever filmed. Problem is, Lazarus’s character, Sgt. Osiris, was originally written as black. So Lazarus decides to dye his skin and play Osiris, um, authentically.”

Downey, Jr. acknowledged the risk: “If it’s done right, it could be the type of role you called Peter Sellers to do 35 years ago. If you don’t do it right, we’re going to hell. At the end of the day, it’s always about how well you commit to the character. I dove in with both feet. If I didn’t feel it was morally sound, or that it would be easily misinterpreted that I’m just C. Thomas Howell in [Soul Man], I would’ve stayed home.”

First Look: ‘Tropic Thunder’ [entertainment weekly]


  1. Pat says

    Gosh, I love Robert Downey Jr, but is there a shortage of black actors to play black characters? Or is there just a shortage of opportunities for them to get roles?

  2. JJ JJ says

    I may be alone, but I am disgusted by this. There are so many amazing black actors in Hollywood who end up taking mediocre roles to make a living, why on earth would they take a mediocre ‘druggy’ actor and give him a black role?

    To me this just smacks of 1930’s racism – let’s just slap some black face on Al Jolson and call it funny.

    And yes, I am white.

  3. nuflux says

    No, you guys misunderstand.

    Robert Downey, Jr. is not himself playing a black guy.

    He’s playing an Oscar-winning white actor who’s playing a black guy in a movie. I don’t know much about the movie but it sounds like it might be good satire.

  4. banjiboi says

    I was ready to jump all over this one until I reread the item. I THINK the premise is that RDJr’s character is playing a black character under false pretenses, a la CTH in Soul Man.

    The question is, why? It wasn’t funny before, and it’s not funny now. But I ‘ll hold my final judgement until I see some actual footage.

    For the record, I didn’t find Eddie Murphy or Dave Chappelle’s whiteface funny either. Just creepy.

    But one whiteface incident stands out for me; back in the 80’s a recurring plot on The Young & The Restless consisted of a good looking black actor who disguised himself as a white mobster in order to bring down the mob. That was kinda weird, too.

  5. crispy says

    Good Christ! Do you guys actually read the articles?

    It’s a spoof of actors. Like Zoolander was a spoof of models. He’s spoofing a white actor who thinks he can pull off an African American role! He’s making fun of black face.

  6. Derek says

    Reading comprehension always seems to be a bit of a problem here and elsewhere…

    Read more carefully and perhaps more
    s-l-o-w-l-y fellas, it will save people from having to explain things to you.

  7. phredd! says

    I had to re-read the article when I first saw it on this morning. But, I totally get the the concept and believe if it is done right and totally from a satirical point of view, it could be quite funny.

    BTW, every time I see Delta Burke as Suzanne Sugarbaker in blackface in that special episode of Designing Women, it never fails to crack me up and bring a smile to my (BLACK) face.

    :-) :-) :-) :-)

  8. JJ JJ says

    Ok, so I misunderstood the original statement – I admit it but how many people are going to watch the trailer for this thing and miss it too?

    I still agree with several of the other commenters, that frankly, even if it is a spoof of a white actor playing black, it is still offensive.

    As I said before, how many people look at Al Jolson in black face and say ‘ha ha’ – I’d much rather watch the Anna Nicole biopic (see the trailer on DListed).

  9. Derek says

    And btw JJ JJ that “mediocre ‘druggy’ actor” earned the staring role in Iron Man this summer. It’s a huge movie with a huge budget and it’s probably going to be the summer’s first blockbuster based on the very cool trailer and the fact it’s another Marvel comic character.

    I guess RDJ should be glad the producers, director and studio don’t share your opinion of him.

  10. says

    I understand the concept of this role and understand that Downey, Jr. understands the concept of racism so I’m not gonna start screaming yet. It just has to be handled correctly. Not like Rob Schneider in yellowface in “Chuck & Larry.”

    It can be funny but I’ll have to see how the movie handles it. I also would hope that there are other actors of color in the movie because if there aren’t it would be a shame.

  11. JJ JJ says

    Hey Crispy, let’s just hope he can stay on the wagon (granted he has done well for a while).

    RDJ was genius in Chaplin what, 15 years ago? Since then he just hasn’t produced much in the way of quality mainly because of the risk that he relapses and can’t complete the movie.

    I can tell you someone is likely paying through the nose for insurance premiums to cast him in a major movie (or he could be doing it himself to get into the movie).

  12. Brian says

    What is the big deal. Is there a shortage of gay actors too. Straight men have been playing gay characters for a long time. It is called acting.

  13. Derek says

    JJ JJ you really do need to focus on your reading man or just do the tiniest bit of research so that it at least sounds like you know what you are talking about.

    Director Joel Silver withheld 40 percent of his salary until after production wrapped on Gothika, as insurance against his addictive behavior. Btw RDJ has been clean for almost 8 years now-a bit better than “pretty good for awhile”.

    And as for producing “quality” again just your lowly opinion but here are some (but not all) of the movies he has stared in since completing drug treatment:

    2003: Gothika
    2004: Eros
    2005: Game 6
    2005: The Outsider
    2005: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
    2005: Good Night, and Good Luck.
    2005: Hubert Selby Jr: It/ll Be Better Tomorrow
    2006: The Shaggy Dog
    2006: A Scanner Darkly
    2006: A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
    2006: Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus
    2007: Zodiac
    2007: Lucky You
    2007: Charlie Bartlett

    I can’t speak for the whole list but Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Good Night, And Good Luck and Zodiaq were all “quality” movies. And GN,AGL was nominated for an Oscar So I have to ask you JJ JJ how many of those movies did you actually see? I mean it’s funny how he goes from being “mediocre” and a “druggy” to “genius” in the course of your posts.

    It seems you really cannot tell us anything that is factual or not steeped in your own opinions. But why is that not surprising?

  14. Sebastian says

    Not one black man was available for this role, or better yet, why not just make it white if you want a white actor? Black face and minstrel shows in 2008, this country still has a mighty long way to go with race issues. And, for those who say, no big deal, wonder how they would have felt if a black guy had white pancake makeup on to portray Harvey Milk in the upcoming bio pic, somehow, the caviler attitude wouldn’t be there.

  15. Ted B. (Charging Rhino) says

    Cripes, is reading comprehension really THIS BAD is America? Half the commenters here obviously have misread or misunderstood the whole point of the character and the role’s back-story.

    Is everyone Cliff-Noting the blog-entry’s title and shooting-off half-cocked without reading the very clearly explained blog-entry?? No-wonder we get the choice of politicans we have in BOTH Parties. It’s like watching Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking”; those people should have their children and their voter-ID cards taken away…but we let them vote anyways.

  16. says

    Ted B., its not just here, you find these inane comments on just about every blog unless the comments are individually approved or the commenter’s handle is approved after several comments are reviewed. People don’t read with comprehension or they form an opinion after reading the headline.

    What absolutely amazes me is that Robert Downey, Jr. has not been labeled a racist for playing a black character. A few select posters must be asleep.

    And Derrick I did check for the “greasy hair”. Sorry, none to be found. Fire the make-up artist!

  17. Andrew Craig says

    OK, for the record, about half of you are flat out moronic.

    This is a comedy. More then that, it is obviously a satire making fun of how stupid Hollywood is on the whole. Keep in mind, Robert Downy Jr. wasnt cast to play a black man, he was cast to play an ego maniacal white actor who wanted to play the part so bad that he dyed his skin black. In the MOVIE, a black actor lost out on the part, but not in real life. The CHARACTER is a white guy playing a black guy, not Robert Downey Jr. One more time. White guy Robert Downey Jr. is playing a white guy who is playing a black guy. Got it? By doing this, they are most likely playing the satire card on three things:

    1) Making fun of how studios would rather have an Oscar winner in a part then someone who is actually well suited for it.

    2) Making fun of the fact that black actors ARE so often overlooked.

    3) Obviously poking fun at his own sensibility as an actor who gets so into his parts theat he pushes has literally destroyed himself to bring as much realism as possible to roles in the past.

    The same thing was done in Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled.” If the South Park guys did this you would all be laughing and posting about how brilliant and under the radar that show is, but because a famous actor has the balls to step up and make the same statement, hes a racist?

    Grow up people. Wait and see the movie and then decide if it was done in bad taste but stop being that person who needs a reason to be outraged.

  18. banjiboi says


    I speak only from my own personal experiences and of having worked within the industry. So far as that goes, I’ve never met a black person who wasn’t adverse to black face.


    And I do believe I stated earlier that I would save my final judgment until I saw actual footage. But for the people here who think that those opposed should lighten up, fine. That’s YOUR opinion. But to some of us it is, and will always be offensive, be it on South Park (spare me; not EVERYBODY thinks that South Park is hilarious), or otherwise.

  19. Marc says

    banjiboi, thanks for keeping it real, these alleged progressive gay men here really need a clue, black paint smeared on a white face went out years ago and is still offensive as it was with jolson, no matter, how they try and insist its ‘art.’

  20. Princess Superstar says

    I look forward to the engaging dialogue that will follow the release of this project. Until then I withhold my judgments. I won’t belabor my other points, which are made by many previous posters. Instead, I offer one of my favorite quotes from astrologist Rob Breszny:
    “A fundamentalist is anyone who thinks his or her belief system trumps al others. Religious fanatics are the most obvious example, but scientists can be fundamentalists. So can socialists or capitalists, environmentalists or atheists. Every fundamentalist divides the world into two camps, those who agree with himand those who don’t. To him, there is one right way and a million wrong ways to interpret reality. Now here’s the uncomfortable news: every one of us has the fundamentalist virus. It may not be as virulent in you and me as it is in the bad guys we love to hate, but we’re all infected. Luckily, [we] can achieve a partial cure. To begin, take everything less seriously and less personally and less literally.”
    My apologies to those of you who abhor reading more than 10 words at any given time.

  21. noah says

    I think it might be interesting if the satire is done right. Downey, however, is wrong about Sellars. Peter Sellars was unfunny when he put on brown face to pretend to be Indian.

    Instead, the satire would be, as others have said, eviscerating Hollywood racism that would rather have a white actor, like Angelina Jolie, play an Afro-Cuban woman than hiring a woman of color.

    Think of the scene from Robert Townsend’s “Hollywood Shuffle” in which African-American actors have to pretend to not to know standard English. Similarly, Rob Schneider’s repeated yellowface roles in which he mangles English and continues the stereotype of Asians as the eternal foreigners.

    Satire can be very effective.

    As for the comparison of straight men playing gay men, that’s missing the point entirely. Straight men who play gay are held up as noble figures who dare to take on controversial roles, risking their careers. While in contrast, closeted gay men can play straight men but do so with the fear that if they are exposed as straight, their careers can be ruined.

    Look at how much love and praise is heaped upon Jake G. for “Brokeback Mountain.” In contrast, Rock Hudson has become something of a joke. His roles as a womanizer or ladies’ man are now subjected to sneers and giggles because everyone knows he was gay.
    Hudson’s credibility as an actor in roles for which he was lauded were shredded with the knowledge of his real self. Why is Hudson’s acting, and the audience’s ability to suspend belief and enjoy his performance, lessened but Jake G.’s is not?

    Look at other openly gay actors and their careers, with the exception of “Grey’s Anatomy” actor T.R. Knight, can anyone think of another gay male actor who has been successful in playing a heterosexual character with audience and studio approval?

    I wish I could think of one but I can’t.

  22. says

    One of the other writers on Highbrid Nation wrote about Robert Downy playing a black man. He worries that Al Sharpton might have something to say about it, lol. Honestly as a black person I think it’s kinda cool that movie make-up has gotten to the point where you can make someone look like another race and if the pics I’ve seen of Robert Downy in costume are accurate than they did a really good job! Plus Robert is a very capable actor so I’m sure he wont come across as stereo typical or offensive. I could be wrong though.

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