The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, August 15, 2008

Tropic Thunder (2008)

Not as gut-bustingly funny as I'd hoped, but still VERY funny, this tale of five hapless actors trapped in a war movie that becomes "real" is outrageous, deliberately offensive, and dead-on accurate in many ways. Ben Stiller might have made his best movie...maybe. Hard to say, but there is a lot of real heart hidden under the clown make-up, and Robert Downy Jr.s performance as a gonzo method Australian actor who undergoes skin darkening surgery to play a black man is one of the most interesting performances of the year. Yeah, there are some very irritating things, but I'm going to give Stiller the benefit of the doubt, and say that he did them deliberately. If that's the case, well done. I'll give this move a "B" and wish I'd spent more time rolling in the aisles.


The only black female character (briefly glimpsed) is obese. The only black male character is gay. Somebody please tell me this was done deliberately. And even if it was, I'm not entirely certain I like whoever thought it was funny.


suzanne said...

you've noted this before Steve
in complain
when black male characters are gay

what's wrong
with being a black male
and gay?

Anonymous said...

The problem is that, consistently, the few Black males depicted are either flamboyantly effeminate or morbidly obese amid the straight, muscular virile standard of White Masculinity. Were Black gays depicted in numerical proportion to their actual presence in society (10% out of 12% of the American population?), and their effeminate behavior not habitually exaggerated (one rarely seems "Butch" Black gays depicted, not to mention Black Lesbians) I (and I presume, Steve), wouldn't find such characters offensive. As is, the consistent depiction of overly effeminate Black male gays in lieu of other Black characters serves to effectively exorcise Black sexuality from American media, thereby rendering African Americans less threatening and more palatable to White society.

Anonymous said...

I think the main thing that Mr. Stiller was doing was making fun of and purposely exploiting entertainment industry personalities. As far as the white actors the personalities were quite obvious. And no disrespect but to the younger audience so was the black actor's. There has been a running commentary for years now about rappers who portray the stereotypical super-male in their lyrics but in their real private life are quite gay. I'm fairly certain that is exactly what Mr. Stiller was going for. I completely understand your viewpoint and 99.9% of the time agree with you, and in this particular instance I give this film a pass on the gay black male character. It actually fit for a reason and not on some conscious or unconscious fear of black male sexuality.

Ronald T. Jones said...

Speaking of gay black male characters, I recently saw a movie on either TVOne or BET where Ving Rhames played a gay guy. I know he's an actor, and the job of an actor is to put on a variety of personas, but Ving Rhames as gay!! That blew my mind!!

Josh Jasper said...

There's still a it of a problem with finding one set of stereotypes funny, but finding another one painful because it's part of a trend.

You find the ones part of a trend that reflect on you as painful, but get to laugh at anyone else who's made fun of, and if they find it painful, they're being too sensitive, and need to lighten up.

kate fitzsimons said...

There's rather a difference between "Hah hah, some members of your rich and famous profession are silly!" and "Your ethnic / cultural group is inferior, tee hee."

Josh Jasper said...

Kate, if you can tell me that the gay character wasn't a gay stereotype, and was just making fun of rich actors, I might buy that.

In a sense, it's a double whammy - they emasculate black men and make fun of gay men all in the same character.

The thing is, if there would have been an effeminate gay non-black man in the movie, would Steve have put in a "Sambo alert" for him? Do we get a "lavender alert"?

Christian M. Howell said...

I have a question for you. I'm curious as to what you think about the rapper Master P's bid to launch a network called, wait for it; Better BLACK TV.

It is supposed to be a competitor to BET and MTV and focus on what seems to be mainstream programming for blacks. I question the need to put the word BLACK on it.

What do you think?

kate fitzsimons said...

Er, misunderstood your previous statement. That was not what I intended to imply

Mike Ralls said...

You know, I saw Tropic Thunder this weekend, and a split second after the rapper was revealed to be gay my mind went, "Sambo Alert."

Steven Barnes said...


Others nailed it. When the ONLY black male character is gay, I interpret that negatively, yes. If there had been another black character who was straight, no problem. But when I see whites disproportionately represented as "lean-bodied, smart, sexy, heterosexual, 18-35" and the disproportionate representation of non-whites OUT of this "breeding circle"...yeah, I take offense.

movie junkie said...

Robert Downey Jr. cracks me up... he's got a knack for not taking himself too seriously

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I think this movie is good but I think that people had other expectations, actually I had the same feeling because I had the same sensation.