Matt Damon has finally addressed the whitewashing controversy he’s found himself in the middle of with his latest film, The Great Wall. During a press conference held after the New York Comic Con panel with the film’s stars, Damon was pretty straight forward with his disappointment at the reception of the big budget Chinese film’s teaser. “Yeah, it was a f**king bummer,” he said, in comments from ComingSoon.net.
The Great Wall is the most expensive Chinese movie ever made, and many questioned why the film was being led by an American like Matt Damon. A passionate Facebook message from Fresh Off The Boat star Constance Wu questioned why a Chinese star couldn’t be the lead even in a big Chinese production, and others accused Damon of perpetuating the ‘white savior’ or ‘mighty whitey’ stereotype. Director Zhang Yimou defended his casting choices by saying the film was a monster movie and not a historical saga, but the whole thing has left a cloud over the film as it rolls towards a February 2017 release.
“I was like, ‘Really, guys?’” Damon continued at the press conference. “To me whitewashing was when Chuck Connors played Geronimo. There are far more nuanced versions of it and I do try to be sensitive to that, but 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.’ Look, it was nice to react a little sarcastically because we were wounded by it. We do take that seriously.”
But Damon pointed out that the 30 second teaser trailer that kicked off the controversy had to accomplish a lot, from letting people know it was a massive Chinese production with a visionary Chinese director attached to assuring them it was still going to be accessible to a North American audience. He asked people to hold off on judging the film too harshly until actually seeing it.
“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 concluded. “I will think about that and try to learn from that. I will be surprised if people see this movie and have that reaction. I will be genuinely shocked. It’s a perspective that as a progressive person I really do agree with and try to listen to and be sensitive to, but ultimately I think you are undermining your own credibility when you attack something without seeing it. You have to educate yourself about what it is before making your attack or your argument and then it’s easier to listen to from my side.”
We’ll see if audiences are willing to give the movie a chance when it comes out in a few months, but initial negative response to Doctor Strange over Tilda Swinton’s Tebetan monk character hasn’t stopped that movie from looking like it will be a huge success, and Scarlett Johansson’s Ghost In The Shell adaptation is also overcoming whitewashing criticism after releasing several clips of the film. So the accusations aren’t a kiss of death, which is probably good news to the Chinese production company behind The Great Wall trying to pull off its first international tentpole blockbuster.