Matt Damon attempted to clear up accusations of whitewashing in his new movie after backlash ensued over his lead role in the historical fiction Chinese epic “The Great Wall.” The actor doubled down on comments made in October, where he defended his part in the movie for making Middle America feel open to viewing it.
When the film’s first trailer — which explains the Great Wall of China was built to fend off monsters — was released in July, many Asians described their disdain online. One of the most vocal dissenters was Taiwanese-American actress Constance Wu. She posted a lengthy response on Twitter in which she slammed Hollywood for placing white men at the center of nonwhite stories.
“We have to stop perpetuating the racist myth that [only a] white man can save the world,” the “Fresh Off The Boat“ star wrote. “Our heroes don’t look like Matt Damon.”
“It’s about pointing out the repeatedly implied racist notion that white people are superior to [people of color] and that POC need salvation from our own color via white strength,” she added. “We don’t need you to save us from anything.”
At New York Comic Con in October, Damon responded to such criticism by explaining whitewashing occurs when a white actor depicts another race using makeup, as is the case with blackface.
“To me, whitewashing was when Chuck Connors played ‘Geronimo,'” he said according to ComingSoon.net referring to the white actor’s 1962 portrayal of the Apache chief. “There are far more nuanced versions of it and I do try to be sensitive to that, but [my co-star] Pedro Pascal called me and goes, ‘Yeah, we are guilty of whitewashing. We all know only the Chinese defended the wall against the monster attack.’”
After noting the trailer was only a teaser, Damon explained how the package is attempting to pander to white Americans.
“They’re saying [the film’s Chinese director Zhang Yimou is] a visionary filmmaker that Middle America probably doesn’t know,” he said. “It’s the Steven Spielberg of China, right? Don’t worry! They speak English in this movie. You hear my voice speaking English. Don’t worry! Matt’s in the movie, you’ve seen this guy before.”
“Ultimately, where I came down to was if people see this movie and there is somehow whitewashing involved in a creature feature that we made up, then I will listen to that with my whole heart,” he added. “I will think about that and try to learn from that. I will be surprised if people see this movie and have that reaction.”
However, in an interview with the Associated Press Tuesday, Dec. 6, Damon and Zhang explained the “demands of the story” required a white actor in the story, not a Chinese one. Then, Damon who insisted that he takes the “whole idea of whitewashhing” very seriously, reiterated his comments about extreme racist showings like “Geronimo.” He believed the controversy would end once audiences see the film is “a monster movie and it’s a historical fantasy and I didn’t take a role away from a Chinese actor.”
He also questioned the severity of the backlash in social media surrounding the film, due for release Dec. 16 in China before opening internationally next year.
“It suddenly becomes a story because people click on it, vs. the traditional ways that a story would get vetted before it would get to that point,” Damon said, noting fake news headlines get clicks at first before readers “realize there is nothing to the story.”
This isn’t the first time Damon has involved himself in racial issues. Last year, the actor whitesplained diversity to Black filmmaker Effie Brown. He proclaimed diversity is only necessary on screen, not behind the scenes.