Months back upon the release of a teaser for the film The Great Wall, various press outlets accused the movie of “whitewashing” Chinese history. The film stars Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal as a group of European adventurers who travel to ancient China and end up fighting monsters alongside the Chinese. Critics said that because white people were coming to save Chinese people, it represented a “white savior” trope.
The film is directed by acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou and features a number of Chinese movie stars.
At a panel at the New York Comic Con Damon responded to the accusations.
“Yeah, it was a f—king bummer,” Damon said. “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… 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.’”
Pascal, also at the panel, responded with “Don’t quote me!”
“Look, it was nice to react a little sarcastically because we were wounded by it,” Damon said. “We do take that seriously.”
“We don’t want to be kept from work that they wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise to see that is very specifically Chinese,” Pascal said. “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.”
“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?” Damon said. “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.”