Since the very first poster for The Great Wall starring Matt Damon was first released, the film has been criticized as yet another example of “whitewashing,” the process of casting white actors in non-white roles. Other recent examples of the practice include Marvel casting Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in Doctor Strange, though some reports claimed that was more to avoid angering China by bringing up the topic of tibet, and in a particularly egregious example, the mostly white cast of Gods of Egypt. There’s also the upcoming Ghost in the Shell starring Scarlet Johansson.
Um actually, Matt Damon doesn’t see whitewashing in that way.
“When I think of ‘whitewashing’ I think Chuck Connors playing Geronimo, that’s whitewashing and that’s unacceptable,” Damon said at a press event in Beijing, as covered by Reuters, though he seemed to be describing the practice known as redface, rather than whitewashing. A report on Time from the same event features further comments from the actor on the subject, saying that the complaints couldn’t have existed before social media.
“It suddenly becomes a story because people click on it, versus the traditional ways that a story would get vetted before it would get to that point,” Damon said.
People fall for outrageous headlines, but “eventually you stop clicking on some of those more outrageous things because you just realize there is nothing to the story when you get to it.”
“Once you’ve seen the film you’ll see it’s not like that,” Damon said of the role, which he and director Zhang Yimou say was never intended for a Chinese actor, though the movie, Zhang’s first English language production, is intended to bring Chinese culture to Western audiences.
Though the story is making the way around the news cycle today, it’s not the first time Damon has addressed this same topic in a similar way. Back in October at New York Comic Con, Damon went in depth into his reaction to the criticism:
I watched the trailer a number of times to understand the criticism. And, ultimately, where I come down is if people watch the movie and still believe there’s whitewashing involved in it, in a creature feature that we made up, then I will listen to it with my whole heart. And I will think about that and I will try to learn from it. I will be surprised if people watch it and have that reaction. I will be genuinely shocked. But it’s a perspective as a progressive person I really do agree with and try to listen to and try to be sensitive to. But ultimately I feel like you are undermining your own credibility when you attack something without seeing it. You have to educate yourself and then make your attack so that it’s easier to listen from both sides.
The Great Wall hits theaters in China on December 16, and in the U.S. in February. An “epic length” trailer was released earlier this month. Willem Dafoe, Pedro Pascal, Andy Lau, Tian Jing, Eddie Peng, Numan Acar, Han Lu, Kenny Lin, and Zhang Hanyu star alongside Damon.