Although blackface has always had a racist history behind it, with social media and other avenues, Black people have been able to express how offensive the act can be in detail. Actor Robert Downey Jr. had to explain his use of blackface in the 2012 comedy movie “Tropic Thunder” and he didn’t seem to have many regrets.
According to Page Six, the 54-year-old actor went on “The Joe Rogan Experience” to talk about his role in the movie where he played an Australian actor who darkens his skin in order to portray a Black soldier in a war movie. Downey said he believes the comedy ignited a conversation he thought needed to be had.
“I think that it’s never an excuse to do something that’s out of place and out of its time, but to me it blasted the cap on [the issue],” Downey Jr. said. “I think having a moral psychology is job one. Sometimes, you just gotta go, ‘Yeah I effed up.’ In my defense, ‘Tropic Thunder’ is about how wrong [blackface] is, so I take exception.”
Despite Downey’s defense of the role, he still admitted that he was hesitant to take it at first. When director and comedian Ben Stiller offered him the role, he said his mother, Elsie Ford, was also concerned.
“My mother was horrified,” Downey Jr. said. “‘Bobby, I’m telling ya, I have a bad feeling about this.’ I was like, ‘Yeah me too, mom.’”
He went on to say, “When Ben called and said, ‘Hey I’m doing this thing’ – you know I think Sean Penn had passed on it or something. Possibly wisely. And I thought, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that and I’ll do that after Iron Man.’ Then I started thinking, ‘This is a terrible idea, wait a minute.’”
The actor eventually had a change of heart.
“I thought, ‘Well hold on dude, get real here, where is your heart? My heart is … I get to be black for a summer in my mind, so there’s something in it for me.” He continued, “The other thing is, I get to hold up to nature the insane self-involved hypocrisy of artists and what they think they’re allowed to do on occasion, just my opinion.”
Unsurprisingly, Downey Jr. was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the movie. Meanwhile, Black actors are still struggling to get nominated for an Oscar for a role that’s not rooted in slavery or stereotypes.
Downey Jr. went on to play the “Black friend” card when defending his role in “Tropic Thunder”.
“90 percent of my black friends were like, ‘Dude, that was great.’ I can’t disagree with [the other 10 percent], but I know where my heart lies,” he said on the podcast.
Luckily, Downey Jr. lost the Academy Award to the late Health Ledger, who won for his role in “The Dark Knight”. You can check out Downey Jr.’s full words for yourself below.