Robert Downey Jr., star of the upcoming Iron Man movie, said this week that he is bracing for controversy with the release of his role in Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder, which is scheduled to reach theaters in August. In the action-comedy about a group of actors, Downey plays a white actor hired to portray a black character. (Daily Mail)
What the commentators said
It's definitely a funny gag, said Entertainment Weekly, but it could potentially stir up more anger than buzz. It will either be a comic sensation or a ticket to hell for Stiller and his cast.
Fred Armisen found out that this is sensitive territory when he first portrayed Barack Obama on Saturday Night Live, said Joshua Alston in Newsweek.com. It's "silly" to make "a fuss" over this by comparing it to the kind of "minstrelsy" that no longer exists, but it's fair to ask why we need "white actors in makeup" when there are black actors out there looking for opportunities.
Sure, but that doesn't apply in Downey's case, said the Dave Caspar Experience blog. He plays a white actor who goes to extremes to play a character who, according to the script, is African American. "Having a black actor portray a white actor attempting to be black" character would be too confusing.
Even as a movie-within-a-movie, blackface can only work if the actor's "intentions are true," said the Defamer blog. Angelina Jolie's biracial character in A Mighty Heart and Jack Black's use of blackface in Be Kind Rewind proved that it can be done, and done well, but filmmakers must tread the waters of this racial taboo carefully.
If all goes well, this movie might mark Ben Stiller’s return as an "edgy comedic force," said Josh Tyler on Cinema Blend. Before his career veered towards family-friendly fare, Stiller used to be funny. "Remember that Ben Stiller? I used to like that Ben Stiller. Maybe he can be funny again. Or maybe he's going to get picketed."