Ben Stiller makes ‘no apologies’ for controversial Tropic Thunder featuring Robert Downey Jr in blackface

Ben Stiller is still “proud” of Tropic Thunder, which he wrote and starred in, despite its controversial legacy.

The 2008 satire comedy about a group of hapless actors making a Vietnam War film famously featured Robert Downey Jr in blackface.

Downey Jr’s character is an Australian method actor, Kirk Lazarus, who undergoes “pigmentation alteration” to play an African-American soldier in the fictional film.

Though Downey Jr’s character was the butt of the joke, the decision to use blackface still attracted much criticism.

On Tuesday (21 February), Stiller responded to a fan on Twitter who asked the actor to “stop apologizing for doing this movie”.

Stiller replied saying he has never apologised for the film, which earned Downey Jr an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

“I make no apologies for Tropic Thunder,” the actor wrote. “Don’t know who told you that. It’s always been a controversial movie since when we opened. Proud of it and the work that everyone did on it.”

Also controversial in the film was Stiller’s Tugg Speedman who plays a character called Simple Jack, a mentally challenged farm boy.

When the film came out, 22 disability advocacy groups called for a boycott over Stiller’s depiction and the repeated use of a pejorative term for people with intellectual disabilities.

Downey Jr addressed the controversial role during a 2020 interview on Joe Rogan’s eponymous podcast.

“My mother was horrified,” he said. “‘Bobby, I’m telling ya, I have a bad feeling about this.’ I was like, ‘Yeah me too, mom.’”

Revealing his justification for using blackface in the film, he added: “[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 per cent of my Black friends were like, ‘Dude, that was great.’”

Asked by Rogan about what the other 10 per cent thought, Downey Jr responded: “I can’t disagree with them, 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 was a blasting 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.”