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?'"

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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