Earlier this week, a tweet claiming Ben Stiller had apologized for making his 2008 comedy Tropic Thunder went viral, leading to Stiller himself clarifying that wasn’t the case.
“Please stop apologizing for doing this movie,” read the original tweet. “It was and still is funny AF. Even funnier now with cancel culture the way it is. It’s a MOVIE. Ya’ll can just get over it. I was DYING laughing when I first saw it back in the day and so was everyone else.”
Stiller, who directed and starred in Tropic Thunder, responded by 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 that everyone did on it.”
As it turns out, a 2018 tweet by Stiller had resurfaced in which he mentioned the backlash to Tropic Thunder from 20 disability advocacy groups around the time it was released.
“Actually Tropic Thunder was boycotted 10 years ago when it came out, and I apologized then,” Stiller wrote in 2018 while quote-tweeting a response to Shaun White’s apology for dressing up as Simple Jack, a mentally-challenged character from the movie. “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 @SpecialOlympics.”
Besides Simple Jack, Tropic Thunder featured Robert Downey Jr. in blackface while playing Kirk Lazarus, a method actor who gets “pigmentation alteration” to temporarily darken his skin to play a Black character.
As Insider points out, Downey spoke at length about the role during a 2019 episode of The Joe Rogan Experience. “I think maybe Sean Penn had passed on [it] — possibly wisely. I thought I would do it after Iron Man, then I started thinking, this is a terrible idea,” he said. “Then I thought, ‘Hold on dude, get real here. Where is your heart?’ And my heart is a.) I get to be Black for a summer in my mind, so there’s something in it for me. The other thing is I get to hold up to the nature the insane, self-involved hypocrisy of artists and what they think they’re allowed to do on occasion.”
He continued, “[Ben 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. And 90% of my Black friends were like, ‘Dude, that was great.'”
As for the “other 10%,” Downey said, “I can’t disagree with them, but I know where my heart was, and it’s never an excuse to do something that’s out of place and not of its time, but to me, it was just putting a — it was a blasting cap.”
After bringing up White Chicks, he added, “There’s a morality clause here on this planet… and I think having a moral psychology is job one, so sometimes, you just have to go, ‘Yeah I effed up.’ Again, not in my defense, but Tropic Thunder was about how wrong [blackface] is, so I take exception.”
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. 🙏✊😊
— Ben Stiller (@BenStiller) February 21, 2023
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 @SpecialOlympics. https://t.co/RqID5jIXP1
— Ben Stiller (@BenStiller) October 30, 2018