Film | News | Robert Downey Jr.

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]

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  1. And Charlie was in 2003 so that would make it only 5 years ago and not 15....

    Good grief Charlie Brown.

    Posted by: Derek | Mar 5, 2008 6:25:33 PM

  2. Pay him no mind Derek, he doesn't have one.

    Posted by: patrick nyc | Mar 5, 2008 6:39:30 PM

  3. 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.

    Posted by: Sebastian | Mar 5, 2008 6:52:09 PM

  4. 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.

    Posted by: Ted B. (Charging Rhino) | Mar 5, 2008 7:27:50 PM

  5. 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!

    Posted by: Johnny Lane | Mar 5, 2008 8:22:04 PM

  6. I'm less suspicious of Robert Downey Jr.'s role in this movie than I am by the presence of Ben Stiller, which is never a good sign.

    Posted by: Miles | Mar 5, 2008 9:11:02 PM

  7. 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.

    Posted by: Andrew Craig | Mar 6, 2008 1:30:07 AM

  8. Who cares about Robert Downey JR? I just want Ben Stiller. Now.

    Posted by: Chris in MN | Mar 6, 2008 9:22:47 AM

  9. Crispy,

    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.

    Posted by: banjiboi | Mar 6, 2008 9:33:08 AM

  10. Banjiboi, you've obviously never seen this.

    A brilliant moment of satire, probably decades ahead of its time.

    Posted by: David D. | Mar 6, 2008 10:28:11 AM

  11. @David

    I suppose it's all relative, really. As "brilliant" though as you might think it to be, I'm not all that impressed.

    Posted by: banjiboi | Mar 6, 2008 10:45:06 AM

  12. 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.'

    Posted by: Marc | Mar 6, 2008 12:20:15 PM

  13. 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.

    Posted by: Princess Superstar | Mar 6, 2008 1:20:10 PM

  14. Schneider is half asian so that doesn't count.

    Posted by: ky | Mar 6, 2008 2:05:57 PM

  15. KY, Schneider's mother is half-Asian so yes it does count.

    Posted by: junior | Mar 6, 2008 3:45:51 PM

  16. 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.

    Posted by: noah | Mar 6, 2008 4:02:40 PM

  17. 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.

    Posted by: Mike Belgrove | Mar 7, 2008 11:53:55 AM

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