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The Great Wall director addresses Matt Damon whitewashing controversy

The movie ‘is the opposite of what is being suggested,’ Zhang Yimou tells EW

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Chris Weeks/Getty Images

On July 28, acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers) released the first photos and trailer of his — and his country’s — most expensive movie ever. Many audiences were surprised to see that The Great Wall was not about the construction of China’s 5,500-mile long Wonder of the World, but instead a full-fledged monster movie. 

But many more were surprised and disappointed that the film, set about 1,000 years ago, starred white American actor Matt Damon. In a lengthy tweet posted one day after the trailer debut, Fresh Off the Boat star Constance Wu criticized the project for “perpetuating the racist myth that only a white man can save the world” and wrote, “Our heroes don’t look like Matt Damon.” 

In a statement provided exclusively to EW, Zhang addresses the controversy, explaining that Damon’s character serves an important plot point, and defends his film against charges of racism. Read his full statement below.

In many ways The Great Wall is the opposite of what is being suggested. For the first time, a film deeply rooted in Chinese culture, with one of the largest Chinese casts ever assembled, is being made at tent pole scale for a world audience. I believe that is a trend that should be embraced by our industry. Our film is not about the construction of the Great Wall. 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. 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. I hope when everyone sees the film and is armed with the facts they will agree.