Matt Damon said on Tuesday that his role in the new China-Hollywood production The Great Wall was always intended to be European, responding to criticism that an Asian actor should have been picked for the part.
Some critics have said Damon’s casting amounted to “whitewashing,” in which Caucasians are chosen for roles that should have gone to actors from other ethnicities.
In an interview with The Associated Press, the American actor said he thinks of “whitewashing” as applying to Caucasian actors applying makeup to appear to be of another race, as was common in the early days of film and television, when racism was much more overt.
“That whole idea of whitewashing, I take that very seriously,” Damon said, using the example of the Irish-American actor Chuck Connors, who played the lead character in the 1962 film Geronimo, about the famed Apache chief.
The 46-year-old Damon plays a British mercenary in the upcoming adventure fantasy helmed by acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou. The trailer sparked criticism in the U.S. that a white man had been chosen to play the lead in a film set in China meant to showcase Chinese culture.
Constance Wu, who stars in the U.S. comedy series Fresh Off the Boat, which is centered on Taiwanese immigrants, posted on Twitter, “We have to stop perpetuating the racist myth that a only (sic) white man can save the world.”
The furore also came amid other accusations of a lack of diversity and opportunities for Asian actors in Hollywood.
Damon and Zhang told the AP that because of the demands of the story, Damon’s role was never envisaged for a Chinese actor.
Damon said he thought the controversy would subside “once people see that it’s a monster movie and it’s a historical fantasy and I didn’t take a role away from a Chinese actor ... it wasn’t altered because of me in any way.”
Damon, star of the Bourne franchise and Interstellar, also questioned whether the critical stories on online new sites based on “a 30-second teaser trailer” would have existed before the era of fake news and 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.”
The Great Wall debuts in Chinese cinemas on December 16 followed by other countries, including the United States in February.
Follow @htshowbiz for more