Damon Talks “Great Wall” Whitewashing

In the wake of the release of the first trailer and poster for Zhang Yimou’s “The Great Wall,” a minor controversy erupted over the big-budget Chinese epic. The complaints centered around star Matt Damon playing a western hero who appears to be yet another ‘white savior’ stereotype.

Speaking at a press conference following the film’s second trailer premiere at New York Comic Con, Damon and his co-star Pedro Pascal addressed the concern quite frankly saying they’re well aware of the reactions that came up:

“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 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.”

Pascal, who was seated next to Damon, added::

“We don’t want to be kept from work that they wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise to see that is very specifically Chinese. It is a creature feature. It’s a big, fantastical popcorn entertainment movie, but it has a visual style that is Zhang Yimou’s and his only.”

Damon then went on to say:

“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.”

Jing Tian, Willem Dafoe and Andy Lau also star in the film, the first English-language production for Yimou is the largest film ever shot entirely in China. Universal Pictures and Legendary Pictures will release it on February 17th next year.

Source: Coming Soon