On Wednesday, Kelly, 49, tweeted a link to a recent interview in which Robert Downey Jr. addressed his role in Tropic Thunder as an actor who wears blackface for a part.
“R. Downey Jr: wears blackface for Universal w/o regret bc it ‘sparked a necessary convo.’ Univer.: yay Robert!” she wrote. “Me: Never worn blackface but had one of those ‘necessary convos’ re how standard seems to have changed over time. NBC-Univer: F.U.! Cancelled!”
R. Downey Jr: wears blackface for Universal w/o regret bc it “sparked a necessary convo.” Univer.: yay Robert!👏🏻— Megyn Kelly (@megynkelly) January 23, 2020
Me: Never worn blackface but had one of those “necessary convos” re how standard seems to have changed over time.NBC-Univer: F.U.! Cancelled! https://t.co/t1uIj6chPJ
The tweet drew criticism that Kelly had missed the point of the 2008 Ben Stiller-directed satire.
“Did you see Tropic Thunder?” The Nation editor Dave Zirin tweeted. “His character was a parody of an idiotic, egomaniacal actor who thought he was making some kind of deep point. In other words, his character was a parody of people like you.”
“Are you still f—ing going on about this?” author Dennis DiClaudio tweeted. “Does it really bother you that much that white people can’t still smear cork all over their faces for humor?
Others also pointed out that Kelly called out the wrong studio in her tweet: Tropic Thunder was not produced by Universal Pictures, but by DreamWorks/Paramount, though it was distributed in foreign territories by Universal Pictures International.
A source close to Kelly defends her tweet. “Megyn’s question was about whether there has been an evolving standard, and does intent matter. The backlash then was to say intent has never mattered, and it’s ignorant and racist even to raise the question. Yet there’s no rush to cancel Robert Downey Jr. for this week saying it was his intent that matters,” the source argues. “Megyn is not going after Robert Downy Jr. She’s clearly against canceling people. Like Obama and an increasing number of courageous others, what she’s referring to is the media hypocrisy to use cancel culture as a weapon when it suits them.”
Downey Jr., 54, addressed the controversial role during an episode of The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, admitting his mother was “horrified” by it. In the film, he played a committed Australian method actor who surgically darkened his skin for the role of a black soldier in a war movie.
“I think that it’s never an excuse to do something that’s out of place and out of its time, but to me, it blasted the cap on [the issue],” he said. “I think having a moral psychology is job one. Sometimes, you just gotta go, ‘Yeah I effed up.’ In my defense, Tropic Thunder is about how wrong [blackface] is, so I take exception.”
NBC pulled Megyn Kelly Today off the air in October 2018 after the host questioned whether wearing blackface as part of a Halloween costume is actually racist. Kelly and an all-white panel were discussing campus attempts to discourage “inappropriate and offensive costumes,” when she asked: “But what is racist? Because truly, you do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface at Halloween or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween. Back when I was a kid, that was okay as long as you were dressing up as like a character.”
Her NBC colleagues condemned her harshly on-air: Craig Melvin called her remarks “indefensible” as well as “ignorant and racist,” and Al Roker insisted she “owes a bigger apology to folks of color around the country.”
“I have never been a PC kind of person, but I do understand the value in being sensitive to our history, particularly on race and ethnicity,” she said. “This past year has been painful for many people of color. The country feels so divided and I have no wish to add to that pain and offense. I believe this is a time for more understanding, more love, more sensitivity and honor. I want to be part of that. Thank you for listening and for helping me listen too.”
Kelly — who had signed a three-year, $23 million-a-year contract with NBC in 2017 — finalized her departure from the network in January 2019, with a source telling PEOPLE at the time, “The contract will be paid out, about $25-$30 million dollars.”
The 9 a.m. hour has since been taken over by Melvin, Roker, Dylan Dreyer and Sheinelle Jones. Kelly has been focusing on her family and recently began conducting interviews again, airing the segments on her Instagram Live.