Posted by Jancy Richardson @Jancy
To avoid fainting, keep repeating 'It's only a movie...It's only a movie...'
Jancy Richardson

In the latest of a string of movies coming under fire for casting white actors in supposedly Asian roles, the impressive trailer release of The Great Wall has been marred by accusations of whitewashing.

Speaking to Coming Soon, Matt Damon commented on the whole whitewashing deal.

"Yeah, it was a f*ckin’ bummer. I had a few reactions. I was surprised, I guess because it was based on a teaser, it wasn’t even a full trailer let alone a movie. To get those charges levied against you… What bummed me out is I read The Atlantic religiously and there was an article in The Atlantic. I was like, ‘Really, guys?’ To me whitewashing was when Chuck Connors played Geronimo. (laughs) There are far more nuanced versions of it and I do try to be sensitive to that, but [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.'”Look, it was nice to react a little sarcastically because we were wounded by it. We do take that seriously."

Here's the Great Wall trailer in question.

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The comparison to Chuck Connors as Geronimo doesn't quite fit here. Obviously, it's more outright, visually offensive to have a white guy made up in red face or yellow face, but the bigger picture of the "white savior" is just as insidious. It's not just The Great Wall, but a gazillion movies where some white person swoops in to "solve racism": The Help, The Blind Side, The Last Samurai, Dangerous Minds, Hardball, 12 Years a Slave, Blood Diamond, Dances With Wolves, Django Unchained, Machine Gun Preacher, Lawrence of Arabia, et cetera, et cetera.

The implication is that these people can't save themselves, or that nobody will watch a movie unless the main character is white.

Matt Damon as William Garin / Universal
Matt Damon as William Garin / Universal

Matt Damon continues to defend The Great Wall, saying that it's unfair to judge a movie from its trailer alone, and that the film is a great platform to introduce director Zhang Yimou to an international audience:

"From a marketing perspective, what’s a worse wipeout for a marketing team than to have that happen as a backlash against a teaser you put out? They’re trying to establish a number of things within a minute. It’s a teaser, they’re trying to tease the monster. They’re saying it’s a visionary filmmaker that Middle America probably doesn’t know. 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. They’re trying to establish all these things, and by the way, there are monsters. Then 30 seconds and you’re done. There’s a lot of pipe they’re trying to lay in 30 seconds, and I watched that teaser a number of times to try to understand the criticism. 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. 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."

Obviously there weren't a whole lot of dudes who looked like Matt Damon in China around the time that the Great Wall was being built, but then, Damon points out, there weren't a whole load of mythical monsters around that time, either. It's the "it's just fiction" defense, which seems to be really, really popular with white people. The issue is who's opinion is given more credence. If we're genuinely concerned with whether The Great Wall is whitewashing or not, Matt Damon, for all of his sympathetic efforts, is not the best person to listen to. See Constance Wu's thoughts on The Great Wall for a more eloquent explanation.


How do you feel about Matt Damon's response to the 'Great Wall' Whitewashing debate?

[Source: Coming Soon]