Actor Matt Damon faced criticism for his role in the new film The Great Wall. Before the movie was released in theaters this past February, the film’s trailer received massive outrage because a white actor plays the lead in a film set in China. Damon plays an English mercenary in the fantasy film about an army of Chinese soldiers fighting monsters. The action/adventure film showcases Chinese culture and people in the United States were not so pleased that acclaimed director Zhang Yimou gave the lead to a white man rather than an Asian actor.
People began trolling Matt Damon on Twitter and other social media sites by using the hashtag, “#ThankYouMattDamon.” After comedian Jenny Yang attended the premiere of the film, she sarcastically thanked Damon for his role in saving the Chinese people in the movie. “Thank you for all that you’ve done to save the Chinese people, Matt Damon. #TheGreatWall.”
Soon the hashtag was trending on Twitter with tons of people thanking Damon for saving China. One Twitter user wrote: “Forget Mulan, Matt Damon is the only one who could save China.” Another person tweeted, “Matt Damon taught me how to use chopsticks.” And if that wasn’t enough, Twitter users called Damon and actress Scarlett Johansson – who is being criticized for her role in the remake Ghost in the Shell – their favorite Asian couple. One user said, “Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson are my favorite Asian couple. #ThankYouMatt Damon.”
Critics of the film also used the term “whitewashed.” A term that means Caucasians are given movie roles that other races or ethnicities should play. The anger about star Matt Damon, a white male actor, being cast as the lead also comes as critics accuse Hollywood of not giving Asian actors opportunities. Matt Damon did not go silent about the issue. In fact, he gave an interview with The Associated Press about critics trolling him on the internet for his “whitewashed” new movie.
“The whole idea of whitewashing, I take that very seriously,” Damon said, adding that he believes the term applies to Caucasian actors putting makeup on their faces to look like another race, which was common in the past in Hollywood. Damon was also not a fan of the hundreds of “click-bate” headlines and fake news being passed along on the web. He said, “It suddenly becomes a story because people click on it, versus the traditional way that a story would get vetted before it would get to that point,” adding, “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.”
Both Damon and director Zhang told the AP that the lead role was always intended to be European since Damon’s character comes to China to steal gunpowder. Damon also wishes that people see that the movie is just a historical fantasy and know that he wasn’t trying to steal the spotlight from a Chinese actor.