Tropic Thunder: Will Boycotts Hurt Or Help?

Published 7 years ago by , Updated February 26th, 2013 at 7:06 am,

black downey simple jack Tropic Thunder: Will Boycotts Hurt Or Help?

Man, I didn’t see this one coming.

Back in March when the photo of Robert Downey Jr as a black man appeared online, I figured the big outcry against Tropic Thunder would revolve around racism. While there has been some talk of “blackface” and how offensive it is in the trailers, by far the most attention has been focused on the use of the word “retard” in the film and the character “Simple Jack” from the fictional film of the same name.

While there have been a lot of posts online slamming any boycott of the film, Cole over at Film School Rejects wrote a post that while not pro-boycott, at least made an attempt at showing the point of view of folks who are offended by the trailers and marketing. There was more than one post on the same site taking the opposite point of view, that people should basically just “get over it.”

The argument on the side of those who want to defend the mentally handicapped via their outrage at Tropic Thunder is that those who are afflicted are not in a position to defend themselves, and are much more susceptible to the meanness of those who would taunt them. Of course, I agree completely that those who cannot defend themselves need defenders and anyone who would pick on someone who is mentally handicapped is basically a dirtbag.

On the other hand, these protests are based on the marketing materials including posters and a website for a fake movie (which has been taken offline) instead of basing it on the actual film in which the “slurs” take place. If one actually goes to see the film (my Tropic Thunder review is here) it’s plainly evident that the butt of the jokes are the actors themselves and not either the mentally handicapped or black people.

Robert Downey Jr plays an actor within the film who is playing a character that is black. He undergoes surgery to make him look African-American and completely immerses himself in the role to the point where he believes he is in fact a black man, complete with righteous indignation when Ben Stiller refers to the group of actors trapped in the jungle as “you people.” Downey says “What do you mean, ‘you people?’,” whereas the actual black actor in the movie says to Downey “What do you mean, ‘you people?’”

tropic thunder review Tropic Thunder: Will Boycotts Hurt Or Help?

Ben Stiller plays an action star that took a stab at an Oscar-bait dramatic role in the fake film within the film Simple Jack, and he plays a mentally handicapped man so outrageously on the fringes of the stereotype that it brings him ridicule. Not the handicapped, but him, the actor.

Of course all the actors in the movie are basically not intelligent and extremely full of themselves, so anything they say actually looks bad on them and not on the subjects they are addressing.

When it comes to how all this will affect the box office, it may put a bit of a dent in it but it looks like it won’t be much. Tropic Thunder was projected to bring in $45 million over it’s 5 day opening extended weekend, but now it’s looking like it will be between $38-41 million.

While any boycott is not having much effect on the box office, online it’s had an impact. The website for Simple Jack now displays a blank page.

But what I find really interesting is that you can’t find any images of Ben Stiller in character as Jack on Google or Yahoo!, although you can still find a handful on MSN. It’s like any trace of the character is being wiped from the internet.

No doubt, there will be a catch phrase coming out of the film that teens and college kids will grab on to (“Never go full retard”), but I’m betting it will be short-lived as the vast majority of people will grasp how insensitive that is.

Yes, Tropic Thunder is rude, crass and gross – but it’s not poking fun at black people or the mentally handicapped.

Box office numbers courtesy of Fantasy Moguls.

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  1. I’ve been reading this all over the place, news sites, movie sites and all.

    I think its rediculous. No single actual person or disability is really made fun of, I think people who get “outraged” over this haven’t seen the movie or don’t know that its a comedy.

    In all honesty though, all these little meaningless protests are simply just marketing campaigns by those groups for their organizations. This way they can get in the news and take advantage of the situation.

  2. ps. Great article.

    I hope so much that this film beats Star Wars badly, but I don’t think the Rated R comedy can take down the Giant Toy commercial, too many kids :(

    On that note, I guess you know of this Warner Brothers Embargo on reviews of their pre-screenings…That’s just more evidence on it not being good, the review that are up on Rotten tomatoes had Clone Wars at 26% this morning then 29% this afternoon. That’s sad.

  3. Rob,

    Review embargoes are misunderstood. I’ve seen this issue raised before and the fact is that as far as I know pretty much every studio prefers that reviews be published on the day the movie is released.

    Every pre-screening I attend regardless of studio has that rule.

    I only posted up the Tropic Thunder review early because I saw it at Comic-Con and not at a typical pre-screening.


  4. Regrettably,outrage over anything has become an acceptable a means of acquiring media attention and fundraising for many worthwhile cause’s,that’s what all the hub-bub is here about.

    BTW I guess the usual suspects must be on vacation.:)

  5. hey Vic,

    I totally understand that, I brought up this one because alot of sites actually posted reviews…mostly heavily negative reviews before they should and were of course quickly contacted to remove them. I bring it up because of the craziness going on at AICN about this, there’s like over a 1000 posts as of last night on that topic (literally well over a 1000), lol.

    I only bring it up because of how bad most critics are saying this flick is, and because its star wars. I’m kinda curious about this flick myself, but I won’t be seeing it in theatres. To me, its a giant toy commercial…and that’s even more enforced by the MASSIVE Hasbro to star wars stands at every walmart and tons of re-releases of all the old star wars characters/vehicles under the same line.

    Will you be reviewing Clone Wars?

  6. Well they tried to give the same explanation over at AICN but that’s like trying to reason with a bunch of starving wolves.

    And I’ll try to crank out a review of Clone Wars later tonight. I should have already written and saved it for publication but I didn’t get around to it.

    It was no worse than the recent prequels, but that’s not saying much, and there were a couple of things that were highly annoying.


  7. Intended or not this controversy is giving the film serious buzz.

    I could see outrage if the film was totally full of retard jokes but this seems like its a small scene,,,

    Howard Stern, makes fun of retarded ppl daily, I dont see them protesting Sirius Radio,,,

  8. Good point’s,790!

  9. this kind of publicity will only help ticket sales.
    I find that quite often the ” outraged protesters ” have not and will not ever see the film that has so offended them. They rail against what they’ve been told by another outraged protester , not against what they’ve seen or heard with their own senses.
    Protests will increase awareness of the film and that will , to some degree , get more butts in the movie theatre seats.
    Genuinely bad publicity is a very rare animal in the movie industry these days.

    If a movie offends you…….don’t watch it.
    Its pretty simple.

  10. I’m all for free speech, so I believe people have a right to make movies that provoke, and a right to say if offended or not. However the outcry rarely does any good, I agree there, and this has just brought the minor part of Simple Jack into prominence.
    Considering how much ‘retarded’ is used anyway, I can’t see this movie making a difference.

  11. The local news was out here in LA at the premire a few nights ago, and they interviewed some ppl on the sreet about this “outragous” scene. Funny thing is most of the ppl they put on camera were all under 18,,,
    The film is rated R for a Reason,,,

    Even though im not really offended by this,,, In no way does this reflect my empathy for the disabled. I would never call them retarded like a bully in school.
    For all us with half a brain (as someone called me today) its a comedy, and we want to laugh. :-)

    Den Diller isnt really acting when he plays a retard.
    Come on,,, /// 8-)

  12. Tropic Thunder took in 37 million over the weekend,I thought it would have done better than that.Did the protesters have that much effect?

  13. Well it was number one, so that counts for something. Maybe the Olympics???


  14. Ben Stiller has a track record of doing anything for a laugh

  15. WOW! are we reaching a period in the history of American freedom of speech where the word retard has fallen akin to the “N-word”? “uh oh, he dropped the “R-word”!

  16. People shouldn’t be afraid to laugh at what’s funny. The Wayans brothers were in a movie called “White Chicks”- is anyone complaining about that? Tropic Thunder is a hilarious movie. people shouldn’t make a mountain out of a mole hill!