It’s no secret that Hollywood has a problem with acknowledging diversity, but Matt Damon was shocked when his upcoming film, The Great Wall,was criticized for “whitewashing” the characters. The Great Wall is the first English-language film from legendary Chinese director Zhang Yimou and boasts a multinational cast. However, the film has been labeled as offensive for its “white savior” stereotyping.
At a press conference during New York Comic-Con, Damon responded to the film’s critics. But first, he lightened the mood by joking, “Yeah, it was a f**king bummer,” when he learned of the criticism. He went on to offer his thoughts on the matter:
“I had a few reactions. I think I was surprised, I guess, because it was based on a teaser. It wasn’t even a full trailer, let alone the movie. So, to get those charges levied against you…what bums me out actually is that I read The Atlantic religiously. And there was an article in The Atlantic, [so] I was like really guys? To me whitewashing, I think of Chuck Connors when he played Geronimo…there are far more nuanced versions of it and I do try to be sensitive to that.”
Damon added that his co-star Pedro Pascal lighten his mood in a phone call saying, “Yeah, we are guilty of whitewashing. We all know only the Chinese defended The Wall against the monster, [but]…it was nice to react a little sarcastically ‘cause we were wounded by it.” He explained, “You know, we do take that seriously. That’s a serious thing.” Pascal was quick to joke, “Don’t quote me!”
Pascal added, “We don’t want people to be kept from work that they wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise to see it, [which] is very specifically Chinese.” He explained, “It is a creature feature. It’s a big, fantastical, popcorn entertainment movie, but it has a visual style that is very in its own way [Chinese].” Damon also pointed out that the film is “a co-production” from both the U.S. and China.
Damon went on to say the following, with respect to The Great Wall:
“From a marketing perspective, like what’s the worst wipeout for a marketing team than to have that happen as a backlash against the teaser that you put out. They’re trying to establish a number of things within 30 seconds or to a minute. It’s not a full length trailer. It’s a teaser and they’re trying to tease the monster…Look it’s a visual filmmaker. You probably don’t know who this director is in middle America. [He’s the] Steven Spielberg of China right? Don’t worry, they speak English in this movie. They’re trying to establish all these things, and by the way, there’s monsters right. They’re trying to lay a lot of pipe in that 30 seconds. And I guess in retrospect like I watch that teaser a number of times to try to understand the criticism, but ultimately where I [sic] came down to was, if people see this movie and feel like there’s somehow whitewashing involved in a Creature Feature – I will listen to that with my whole heart. And I will think about that and I will try to learn from that. But I will be surprised if people see this movie and have that reaction, I will genuinely [be] shocked. And it’s a prospective, that as a progressive person, I really do agree with and try to listen and try to be sensitive to, but ultimately I feel like you are undermining your own credibility when you attack something without seeing it. I think you have to educate yourself about what it is and then make your attack or your argument and then it is easier to listen to from my side.”
Matt Damon stars in The Great Wall along with Jing Tian (Police Story: Lockdown), Junkai Wang (A Love for Separation) and Pedro Pascal (Narcos). The film tells the story of an epic fight between humans and monsters set at The Great Wall in ancient China. It is the first English-language film from legendary director Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers).
The Great Wall opens in U.S. theaters on February 17th, 2017.