Ben Stiller still makes ‘no apologies’ for ‘Tropic Thunder’

Ben Stiller still makes ‘no apologies’ for ‘Tropic Thunder’

Ben Stiller still has ‘no apologies’ for Tropic Thunder: ‘Always been a controversial movie’

The 2008 Hollywood spoof infamously features Robert Downey Jr. in blackface, as well as jokes criticized as offensive to people with intellectual disabilities.


By Lauren Huff February 24, 2023 at 07:30 PM EST

Responding to a fan tweet this week, the actor and director insisted that he makes “no apologies” for the controversial action-comedy, which infamously features Robert Downey Jr. in blackface and jokes criticized as being offensive to people with intellectual disabilities.

While the tweet had asked Stiller to “please stop apologizing for making this movie,” he replied, “Don’t know who told you that. It’s always been a controversial movie since when we opened. Proud of it and the work everyone did on it.”

Directed by Stiller from a script he wrote with Justin Theroux and Ethan Cohen, Tropic Thunder follows the misadventures of a group of narcissistic actors who accidentally find themselves battling a heroin cartel while making a Vietnam War film.

Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr. in ‘Tropic Thunder’

Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr. in ‘Tropic Thunder’

| Credit: Everett Collection

At the time of its release, disability advocacy groups protested the film over a running gag involving Stiller’s character having played an intellectually disabled person in a shameless Oscar grab.

As Stiller alluded to in his tweet, he and his collaborators have long defended the film as a satire. Back in 2008, a studio spokesperson said, “Tropic Thunder is an R-rated comedy that satirizes Hollywood and its excesses, and makes its point by featuring inappropriate and over-the-top characters in ridiculous situations. The film is in no way meant to disparage or harm the image of individuals with disabilities.”

Stiller also said in 2018 that the movie “was always meant to make fun of actors trying to do anything to win awards.”

As for Downey’s role as Kirk Lazarus, a pretentious Method actor who dons blackface to play a Black soldier, Downey has said he was hesitant at first but ultimately stood by the intentions of the filmmakers.

Downey, who received an Oscar nomination for the role, told EW in 2008, “I felt like, I want to work with Ben and Jack [Black], but my way into the movie is I’ve got to be tarred and feathered for three months and maybe have my reputation destroyed. That was my fear. And then we started doing makeup tests, and it was like Mr. Potato Face: ‘Can we take that wig off and put these teeth in? Now put this on. Now put that on.’ But by the time we were finally in rehearsals, I knew I had it.”

He stood by Tropic Thunder again in 2020, saying on Joe Rogan’s podcast that his heart was in the right place making the movie and that Stiller “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.” Downey added, “Tropic Thunder was about how wrong that is.”

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