From the coalface


by Rohin
21st March, 2008 at 12:15 am    

The circled actor is Robert Downey Jnr in Ben Stiller’s forthcoming film, Tropic Thunder.

Controversial? Some people are annoyed.

Does it make it less objectionable if Downey Jnr is playing a white method actor that has blacked himself up and is poking fun at the concept?

I’m not personally offended in any way (how is this different to making an actor look old, female or zombified?), but somewhat intrigued by Downey Jnr’s defence of his character, Kirk Lazarus:

“If it’s done right, it could be the type of role you called Peter Sellers to do 35 years ago. If you don’t do it right, we’re going to hell.”

Peter Sellers was a comedy genius. But if Downey Jnr’s character is as nuanced, subtle and wry a portrayal of a black man as Peter Sellers’ depiction of Hrundi in The Party, he’ll be a mocking stereotype.


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Filed in: Media,Race politics






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  1. Leon — on 21st March, 2008 at 12:30 am  

    For one of his stand up vids Lenny Henry once was made up very well to look like Steve Martin; Eddie Murphy did a very funny Jew in Coming To America. Can’t see why this should be controversial tbh…

  2. Boyo — on 21st March, 2008 at 9:39 am  

    Just reading the synopsis made me laugh. If you read that then obviously you can tell the blacked-up thing is a p-take. Looking forward to it!

  3. Matt — on 21st March, 2008 at 4:00 pm  

    The reaction as I’ve seen it has been that it no longer matters if the blackface is done well. With the release of the trailer, the depictions of Asians might be the focus of criticism. Eg:

    I kind of like the concept, and the blackface thing is iffy, but it might be handled well; it’s hard to judge. Still, there’s no way I’m going to see this movie because a) Ben Stiller’s mock-chimpanzee mugging makes me nauseous and b) the evil Asian horde.

  4. sonia — on 22nd March, 2008 at 11:14 pm  

    i can’t help thinking that by being offended one is buying into an idea that black is somehow inferior and that one is somehow ashamed of being that ‘inferior being’ and can’t stand it that someone ‘superior’ is “parodying” that. isn’t that internalising and legitimising the very notions one is meant to be protesting? seems more than a silly way to go – its the way to internalise imperialism and a good way to keep up the shackles on oneself.

    say in the past people thought men dressing up as women in an acting situation was meant as some kind of insult to women because it was a parody of an inferior being. ha ha look at us we’re pretending to be that inferior being. of course we’re not so we can play at being inferior and go back to our superior existence when we want to.

    does that then mean, in an age where the idea of woman is no longer considered an inferior being, no man should be able to dress as a woman again as an act again, without it being thought that it was automatically intended as the same kind of insult? where is the insult actually coming from? unless we are keeping up the idea that one is inferior and one is superior, and it should not be ‘rubbed in’, or ‘mocked’.

  5. sonia — on 22nd March, 2008 at 11:15 pm  

    probably should have written – to make my intention clear:

    ..”because it was a parody of what was considered to bean inferior being

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