Matt Damon Isn’t Whitewashing The Great Wall, Says Director

Matt Damon Isn’t Whitewashing The Great Wall, Says Director

Next February, Matt Damon stars in a movie centred around the Great Wall of China. According to the film’s director Zhang Yimou, there’s a reason for that and it’s not whitewashing. [Image via The Washington Post]

This comes in the wake of surrounding the decision to cast Scarlett Johansson as augmented-cybernetic human Motoko Kusanagi in The Ghost in the Shell.

As Channel NewsAsia reports, there has been pushback regarding the decision to cast Damon, and as of writing, the trailer — which doesn’t explain much other than the Great Wall, Chinese warriors, Matt Damon, and monsters — has 7,826 likes and 6,309 dislikes.

“Our film is not about the construction of the Great Wall,” Zhang said in an statement released to Entertainment Weekly earlier this month. “Matt Damon is not playing a role that was originally conceived for a Chinese actor. The arrival of his character in our story is an important plot point. There are five major heroes in our story and he is one of them — the other four are all Chinese. The collective struggle and sacrifice of these heroes are the emotional heart of our film.”

With credits like Raise the Red Lantern and Hero, Zhang is one of China’s most respected filmmakers. The Great Wall is his English-language debut and is being made by a Chinese-owned Hollywood studio. Compared to previous China-Hollywood co-productions, which might only feature a few scenes set in China, The Great Wall is making a big international push for a Chinese-themed movie. That stars a white guy, that is.

The Great Wall is fantasy, but The Washington Post points out that having Damon as a European mercenary who shows up to save Ancient China could be perplexing when considering the country’s real history of oppression under European imperialism. Again, this is fantasy and a movie, but the larger issues, such as actual history or Hollywood’s casting decisions, could be why it’s already drawing criticism. For Zhang, however, this isn’t about the movie he says he wants to make.

“As the director of over 20 Chinese language films and the Beijing Olympics, I have not and will not cast a film in a way that was untrue to my artistic vision,” Zhang continued in his statement. “I hope when everyone sees the film and is armed with the facts they will agree.”

Guess we’ll see when The Great Wall opens next February.


  • So, you’re saying that people on social media overreacted before getting all the details? Get outta here, people overreacting on social media?

    • I’ll react right now. Willem Dafoe! Andy Lau! This thing’s going to blow up like nitro!

  • tbh when I first read the plot summary of people fighting monsters attacking a great wall in a fantasy epic, my mind went first to “Attack on Titan” before historical piece….

  • Talk about making a mountain out of a fucking molehill. He’s been cast appropriately. It’s a role written for a caucasian actor. It hasn’t been whitewashed, it’s been cast *appropriately*. Are we now saying fantasy movies can’t have anyone outside the immediate cultural scope in them too?

    Really, really tired of this goddamn crap these days where one must immediately feel guilty over such rubbish because uninformed websites and people on social media jump the gun without any facts.

    • This is no more abhorrent than Tom Cruise starring in The Last Samurai… hmmm…. now that I put it like that, though…

      • Except that The Last Samurai was loosely, very loosely based on factual events of the story of Jules Brunet, a french officer involved in the Boshin war Boshin War and the rebellion against the Imperial Nippon between 1868 and 1869 CE. If people took a moment before slamming that movie, they’d understand that ‘The Last Samurai’ actually referred to Ken Watanabe and *not* Tom Cruise.

  • It’s not like no white person ever went to medieval China. Marco Polo, for instance.

    The film is also clearly fantasy, and looks like the Great Wall of China meets the Night’s Watch from Westeros.

  • “The Washington Post points out that having Damon as a European mercenary who shows up to save Ancient China could be perplexing when considering the country’s real history of oppression under European imperialism.”

    I’m confused. Is the Washington Post saying that all European’s were evil? Surely there was at least one European that wanted to help the Chinese people.

  • This is hilarious. Knee-jerking SWJs trying to condemn a movie for perceived whitewashing cannot even realise how much more belittling and arrogant is that they, a bunch of a white people, are trying to tell a Chinese director how to cast his Chinese historical movie.

      • Nah nah nah, it’s wrinkled old dudes with wispy beards and immensely long eye-brows. Maybe some sort of pig-demon?

    • The Last Samurai was more debatable though as it was actually based around historical things, this seems more like sci-fi that just happens to be set in the past.

  • Hmm … I don’t really buy it. What else would the director say? I don’t agree with the premise that the white washing only exists if a white actor is overtly substituted for an initial Asian non white casting, or if the plot construes that he or she should be there. I also do not agree that racial casting of a white actor is neutral if it has been done by a non-White studio.

    The director says that Damon plays one of several heroes, the rest of which are Chinese. His intent seems to be to imply that among this group of heroes, Matt Damon will enjoy no special privilege. Maybe that’s true, but I really can’t comprehend how it will be allowed to happen. This is an English language film clearly designed to sell in China on the strength of it’s “who’s who” local casting and the oddity of a Hollywood celebrity in their midst, and to sell to mainstream markets outside of China on the basis of Matt Damon and a cast of Chinese actors most people will not know or care about. Fans of Chinese cinema and Zhang Yimou already have so much more to watch.

    I hope this film makes the director and the studio a lot of money and more business opportunities. But to say that the casting of Matt Damon is something completely neutral in motivation, is dubious.

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