‘The Great Wall’ Director Says Casting Matt Damon Isn’t Whitewashing

The Great Wall has drummed up some controversy for casting Matt Damon as the hero in a Chinese period piece, but the director says it’s all a big misunderstanding.

In a statement to Entertainment Weekly, director Zhang Yimou said his $135 million film is “the opposite of what is being suggested.” He insisted The Great Wall is not a historical piece, but rather a monster movie.

Furthermore, he said Damon is only one of five heroes, with the other four being Chinese, and Damon is “not playing a role that was originally conceived for a Chinese actor.” He also added that he’s trying to bring Chinese stories to a global audience, and his reputation as a Chinese filmmaker shows his dedication to telling his country’s stories.

“For the first time, a film deeply rooted in Chinese culture, with one of the largest Chinese casts ever assembled, is being made at tent pole scale for a world audience. I believe that is a trend that should be embraced by our industry.”

Yimou’s film was recently criticized by Fresh Off The Boat star Constance Wu, who said it “perpetuated the myth” that white actors are needed to sell blockbuster films, even films that take place in foreign countries. We saw this with the casting of Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, as well as Tilda Swinton as a Tibetan monk in Doctor Strange. In that case, however, it was because of Chinese audiences, who would’ve likely rejected a Tibetan actor.

The Great Wall is currently China’s biggest blockbuster, costing at least $135 million to make, but it’s only the beginning. China’s quickly becoming the fastest-growing movie market in the world, with Hollywood working overtime to meet demand.

Legendary Pictures, the Batman Begins studio that co-produced The Great Wall, is now owned by a Chinese conglomerate. Its latest film Warcraft made almost five-times more money in China than in America, and the upcoming Kong: Skull Island is part of a multi-year monster movie series largely for the overseas market.

(Via Entertainment Weekly)