After a decade in hibernation, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck brought their re-tooled Project Greenlight reality series back to HBO this year. Like the three seasons before it, season four once again highlighted the challenges behind-the-scenes for a first-time director (or screenwriter) working with a limited budget, and once again, the end result — in this case, Jason Mann’s The Leisure Class — was an underwhelming and forgettable film. In fact, in the three previous seasons of Greenlight, the talent to come out of the series hasn’t exactly shaken Hollywood. First-season winner Pete Jones wrote the Farrelly Brother’s underperforming Hall Pass, while Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton — the screenwriters of Feast in season three — have since written two sequels to that movie, as well as several Saw sequels and The Collector. The results, thus far, have been lackluster, and Jason Mann is not likely to change that.
In the intervening years between season three and season four of the series, however, the cultural landscape has changed significantly. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck probably did not anticipate that issues of diversity would play such a large role in season four, but it was Damon himself who put that issue front and center in the first episode. While choosing a director, Damon suggested to the movie’s producer Effie Brown (Dear White People) — the only other black person in the room — that “diversity” is something that is considered “in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show.”
The internet’s reaction to Damon’s tone-deaf comments was swift and unmerciful, as the previously beloved, politically progressive Matt Damon was criticized for whitesplaining and for letting his white privilege show. Even Damon himself conceded that he came off sounding like “an asshole,” admitting later that it was an insensitive thing to say.
To his credit, Damon could have had the conversation edited out of the episode, but he was a man of his word when he suggested in that first episode that he wanted to “start a conversation” about diversity on Project Greenlight. That conversation dominated much of the season, thanks to the conflict between producer Effie Brown and the director who Affleck and Damon chose to direct the film, the bristling and arrogant Jason Mann, described as “pretentious as hell” by one of the film’s producers, Peter Farrelly (Dumb and Dumber).