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Birth of An Industry: Blackface Minstrelsy and the Rise of American Animation

Nicholas Sammond, Author

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Conclusion, Page 275

In Tropic Thunder (2008), Robert Downey Jr. as Kirk Lazarus/Lincoln Osiris tries to calm Ben Stiller as a lost Tugg  Speedman (a la Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now [1979]), then loses himself in a mirror.

In an earlier scene, Stiller as the failing action star Speedman witness his failure as an actor while playing the mentally disabled Jack in Simple Jack, one of the movies-within-a-movie in Tropic Thunder (2008).

Tropic Thunder plays with notions of racial authenticity in transgressive ways, yet the primary backlash against the film was not for its use of blackface; it came from disability advocacy communities over the repeated use of "retard" and the portrayal of Simple Jack.

Tropic Thunder attempts to deflect criticism of its portrayal of race by mounting an internal self-critique. Brandon T. Jackson's character, Alpa Chino, repeatedly calls out Lazarus for his minstrel performance—what New York Times film critic Manhola Dargis has described as "the filmmakers' way of having their chocolate cake and eating it too."
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