Monday, August 25, 2008

Downey delivers in blackface

"It was tricky and there was trepidation," Robert Downey Jr. said in an interview a few weeks ago about the idea of playing a guy in blackface in Tropic Thunder. But as the Ben Stiller war movie parody continues to rack up the big bucks (two Number One weekends in a row -- $66 million in just ten days of release), the idea of a white American actor playing a white Australian movie star playing an African-American Army grunt who quotes from The Jeffersons -- well, it hasn't even caused a stir.

(As for the "Simple Jack" controversy -- Stiller's politically incorrect portrait of a mentally challenged character -- even that hasn't put a dent in the box office.)

"I think the glory of it is that as evidenced by the reaction, the power balance has shifted enough," says Downey. "I feel like it’s just a sign — you know, everyone can see the signs of how far we have to go with racism and sexism and all that stuff, but to me the fact that this could come out and that enough time has passed in the post-Jolson era to make something like this viable. And I think it was really DreamWorks and Ben who knew that this was something that -- you know, the wounds weren’t quite so fresh, and there wasn’t such a recent surge of injustice going on that we couldn’t have some fun here.

"And here’s the thing, too. When people see the movie from end to end, the last thing they ever comment on when it’s over is me, my role. The movie has so many other things in it that are way more crazy and creepy than the idea of an Australian playing an African-American. It literally does not even make the Top Ten. That’s how nuts this movie is."

Or as Downey's Iron Man director Jon Favreau put it, when he heard about what his buddy was up to in Tropic Thunder: "Although I don’t think racism is funny, I think it’s funny to make fun of racism, and to explore it... We’re all of a generation that grew up not in the shadow of ignorance when it comes to that. So I think that more things should be on the table, and that there’s room for humor in every area."