Ben Stiller Stands by Controversial ‘Tropic Thunder’ Movie 15 Years Later

Ben Stiller Stands by Controversial ‘Tropic Thunder’ Movie 15 Years Later
Actor Ben Stiller attends the 'Tropic Thunder' press conference at Peninsula Tokyo in Tokyo, Japan on Nov. 20, 2008. (Junko Kimura/Getty Images)

Comedic actor Ben Stiller insisted he would not apologize for his 2008 film “Tropic Thunder” despite its politically incorrect themes.

The film’s plot focuses on a group of actors on the set of a Vietnam War movie that devolves into production troubles, drug addiction, and a hostage situation involving the main cast of actors and a southeast Asian crime syndicate.

On Thursday, musician Benny S claimed “liberals have been trying to ‘cancel culture’ the movie, ‘Tropic Thunder'” and “Now people like Ben Stiller are actually apologizing.” The Twitter user tweeted directly at Stiller, calling on the actor to “stop apologizing for doing this movie.”

Stiller, who co-wrote the screenplay, directed and produced it, and starred in the film, responded, saying, “I make no apologies for Tropic Thunder. 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.”

Blackface Controversy

One of the controversial elements of the film was actor Robert Downey Jr.’s use of blackface in the movie. The film has Downey Jr. playing the role of the fictional caucasian actor Kirk Lazarus, a five-time Academy Award winner known for his method acting. As part of the plot of the satirical film, the white actor, Lazarus, is cast as an African-American soldier and elects to undergo skin-pigmentation surgery to darken his skin. In order to play Lazarus, Downey Jr. also had to darken his skin.

Downey Jr.’s Lazarus character was intentionally meant to evoke the controversial use of “blackface,” a practice of white actors wearing black makeup to portray black characters. Blackface has largely fallen out of practice over concerns about white individuals using it to make a mockery of black people.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has admitted to darkening his skin for an “Arabian Nights” costume party in 2001 and in high school for a performance of Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song (Day-O).”

Journalist Megyn Kelly was fired from an NBC talk show in 2018 after she defended the use of makeup to change ones ethnic appearance in certain contexts, including for Halloween costumes.

Benny S, who is black, specifically alluded to Downey Jr.’s use of blackface as he defended the 15-year-old movie, adding laughing emojis as he described how Downey Jr. had to undergo “pigmentation alteration” for the role.

In a 2020 interview with podcast host Joe Rogan, Downey Jr. reflected on his role in “Tropic Thunder.” Downey Jr. said 90 percent of his black friends cheered the performance and for the other 10 percent, Downey Jr. said “I can’t disagree with them but I know where my heart was.”

“In my defense, ‘Tropic Thunder’ is about how wrong [blackface] is, so I take exception,” he later added.

‘Simple Jack’ Controversy

While Stiller said he makes “no apologies” for “Tropic Thunder,” the film has come under criticism over the years for several different issues, such as its commentary on Hollywood’s depiction of intellectually challenged individuals.

In the film, Stiller plays Tugg Speedman, an actor who had earned success as an action movie star but who drew negative coverage for his film “Simple Jack” about an intellectually challenged farm boy. During the film, Downey Jr.’s character criticizes Stiller’s character for the “Simple Jack” performance, saying the characterization of an intellectually challenged individual went too far.

In 2018, Olympic snowboarder Shaun White dressed up as “Simple Jack” as part of a Halloween costume and later apologized for his actions.

Addressing the 2018 controversy, Stiller said, “Actually Tropic Thunder was boycotted 10 years ago when it came out, and I apologized then. It was always meant to make fun of actors trying to do anything to win awards. I stand by my apology, the movie, Shaun White, And the great people and work of the [Special Olympics].”


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