Back in July, the teaser trailer for Matt Damon’s upcoming action epic The Great Wall caused some fans (and Constance Wu) to balk at the apparent centrality of a white character in a film set in China and helmed by Chinese director Zhang Yimou. When asked about the controversy at New York Comic Con yesterday, Coming Soon reports that Matt Damon was, among other things, bummed. “It was a fucking bummer,” the actor said at the film’s post–NYCC panel press conference. “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 … “
While Damon later said he is sensitive to perceptions of racism, he also pointed out that the film is not, say, a Chinese historical drama, but rather features characters of different races teaming up to fight some kind of gigantic dragonlike carnivorous lizards. Said the actor, “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. 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.’”
Zhang also defended the film from critics back in August, pointing out that Damon is the only non-Chinese person of the film’s five heroes. “Our film is not about the construction of the Great Wall,” he noted at the time. Continued Damon, “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.” Bummer or not, the film debuts in February 2017.