Matt Damon has said that his role in the new Chinese-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 Matt’s casting amounted to “whitewashing”.
In an interview with The Associated Press, the US actor said he thinks of “whitewashing” as applying to Caucasian actors applying make-up 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,” Matt 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 plays a British mercenary in the upcoming adventure fantasy helmed by acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou. The trailer sparked criticism in the US that a white man had been chosen to play the lead in a film set in China which is meant to showcase Chinese culture.
Constance Wu, who stars in the US comedy series Fresh Off the Boat, which is centred 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.
Matt told AP that because of the demands of the story, Matt’s role was never envisaged for a Chinese actor.
Matt 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.”
The Bourne star also questioned whether the critical stories on online 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,” Matt 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 opens in Chinese cinemas on December 16, followed by other countries in February.