Tropic Thunder director and actor Ben Stiller recently appeared on The New Abnormal podcast where he discussed Tropic Thunder and detailed that the film could not be made today.
Stiller began the podcast detailing that in the climate of 2020 it’s harder to make art.
In fact he stated, “And when I think of movies that I worked on the past and I look at them now, definitely there are jokes and scenes and things that I go, ‘Oh I don’t know if we could have gotten away with that today at all.”
He would bring up this point later in the interview when he was asked by The Last Laugh podcast host Matt Wilstein what his thoughts are with Hollywood editing out and removing episodes featuring actors in blackface. He specifically referenced Robert Downey Jr.’s character in Tropic Thunder.
Recently, The Office edited out a scene with a character dressed up as Black Pete.
Community would also pull an entire episode from Netflix showing Ken Jeong cosplaying as a Dark Elf.
Stiller responded to the question, “It’s complicated. Yes, I am aware of that and I heard Downey was on Joe Rogan’s podcast awhile back talking about it. And you know for me, it’s the context of it. I totally see. That’s why I was saying right now today, Tropic Thunder probably would not have been made.”
Stiller elaborated, “Because the atmosphere, that would just feel wrong. It would be tone deaf right now to make it. But the time we made it was very clear, in terms of for us, the idea behind that character was an actor, it was making fun of an who would actor go to any lengths to win an award. For me that was always the very clear idea behind it.”
He continued, “Now, does that mean that necessarily now I would do it today? I probably wouldn’t because I would know that the atmosphere today would be like that would feel wrong. But at the time it was very clear that was what we are doing and felt okay to do it.”
Stiller then added, “Now, I’m not saying that that’s okay to do…That doesn’t mean blackface is okay. Blackface is not okay. But it’s probably never okay. So, I have no leg to stand up and say that character is doing that.”
He then reiterated his thought process behind Downey’s Kirk Lazarus, “But for us it was really clear that this is making fun of an actor who would take on any character just so he could win an award because actors are so self-involved. And I think when we were casting it, it was really clear to me that there are only a few actors who I think an audience would buy doing that and not find it offensive.”
Stiller then detailed he did share the movie to the local NAACP chapter win Los Angeles, “And you know to be honest when we made the movie I took the movie to the local NAACP chapter in LA and showed it to them because I wanted to get their feedback before we released the movie and that when okay.”
He then detailed that at the time the film was made much of the criticism revolved around Stiller’s Simple Jack character rather than Downey’s Lazarus, “And then what I got blindsided by was the Special Olympics came after me for playing Simple Jack. So I was so concerned about the reaction of Robert playing that character that I wasn’t even thinking about where we really got attacked. Which I understood too from their point of view.”
Stiller concluded, “The bottom line is you have to be clear what your point of view is when you are doing comedy that is edgy and for me it was always making fun of actors who would do anything to get more attention and to win awards. But I am also totally sensitive to how people would react to it now.”
What do you make of Stiller’s comments?