Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tropic Thunder: Funny or Racist?

I feel guilty laughing at previews for the movie Tropic Thunder. There's something about Robert Downey Jr. in blackface that makes me really fucking uncomfortable. So I randomly called my Stepdad, who is African American, to see if he had anything to say about the movie. I wanted to get his opinion on it from a personal standpoint, but also to see if he could attempt to gauge the local black community's beliefs about this movie as extrapolated from the opinions of him/some of his friends.

His basic reaction was that the movie is not offensive, but instead looks "hilarious," and that he will be going to see it ASAP.

I told him that I felt uncomfortable about it; he responded, "I think, honestly, that 'good' white people feel guilty about slavery so they're overly sensitive about anything pertaining to race: kind of like a guy who's a feminist and refuses to laugh when girls call each other 'sluts.'"

He said that a lot of his black friends are also excited to see it, while his white ones seem ambivalent. He continued, "I'm sure there are some black people who think it's offensive and I'm like: Dude, shut up! First of all, it's a movie, and second of all, that's how we sometimes act. It's only offensive if it's not true... so I think it's going be hilarious."

Then he continued, "Now, can you laugh at it? Hmmm... I don't know. Maybe with a black guy on your arm."

So what do you think? Offensive or no? I fully admit I'm overly sensitive about race issues (ahem, okay, ALL issues) but that is probably because my Stepdad and Stepbrother are black and I feel like I have to defend them when people are being even slightly racist, though feeling guilty about slavery is probably something ingrained in us in grade school and not necessarily a bad thing.

If I laugh at the preview, am I just appreciating something that is funny and, as my Stepdad says, 'true?' Or am I helping to support and perpetuate stereotypes that are societally harmful?



Anonymous said...

I think the crucial thing that makes this movie funny and not racist is that Robert Downey Jr. isn't making fun of black people - he's making fun of Hollywood portrayals of black people.

Kasupu said...

ditto on resnikoff's comment^ and i understand where you're coming from, it's hard to gauge what's (un)acceptable esp. for our generation since we grew up in a post-civil rights time where we should theoretically be over racial tensions so we aren't quite sure how to react when a potentially racist situation arises. and as for your question on whether or not to laugh (not to sound prickish/toolish but zizek and other lacanians would have a lot to say about injunctions on enjoyment) i think you should be able to laugh if you think it's funny, not because your step dad says it's ok. and i'm black, so you can use that as data in your poll.

Jess and Josh said...

ned: you're right. that is an important distinction.

kasupu: i think the post-civil rights movement is an important point. we definitely navigate issues of race differently than our parents. when it comes down to it, i do laugh about things that are funny. my stepdad knows that and i think he was just joking, i mean, we watch "boondocks" together.

rebekker said...

It seems to me as though Tropic Thunder is a Hollywood-parody, straight-up, that isn't really meant to be taken as anything else, but its main problem is that most of the people who see it aren't necessarily going to take it as such. It's speaking to itself, if that is not a too terribly blithe and convoluted thing to say. It's like an intelligent version of all those miserable Scary Movie rip-offs, but with puerile humor and a giant budget that will attract a certain audience not that invested in seeing a smart spoof of Hollywood.

What I find more offensive than the whole black-face thing (and the fact that they totally cast a black actor in a "hey, chill, we have black friends" sort of move) is the whole "retard" controversy. Because it is movies like "I Am Sam" and "Forrest Gump" that are truly offensive, aesthetically and morally, but I can't imagine most casual movie-goers will see that part of the movie and think "Haha Sean Penn is such an awful, condescending prick, that's a great takedown of blatant, poorly made Oscar-bait" rather than "Oho, retards are funny." Because, let's be honest. Retards are funny. And it's August. It is too hot to think.

(ps: Did you know Justin Theroux co-wrote it? To be incredibly shallow, he only has so many years of being crazy-hot left, I think he should utilize them in front of the camera.)

Marshall said...

When I first saw a photo of it back in April I was very uncomfortable. Actually, when I first saw a photo of it I thought it was Craig Robinson (Daryl) from the Office.

Once I saw the trailer though, and saw what Stiller was doing with his mentally handicapped character (which is causing it's own controversy around here with the Special Olympics), I realized how it was lampooning actors, not African Americans, as others above have mentioned. It was also just right for there to be a real black man in the cast to criticize the situation.

Thanks for leaving so much goodness before you leave us for the Grand Canyon.