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Matt Damon: Great Wall whitewashing controversy discussed

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Matt Damon said this summer’s whitewashing controversy over his new film The Great Wall was a “f—ing bummer.”

Damon made the comments during a Saturday press conference at New York Comic Con.

“It was a f—ing bummer,” Damon said (via Coming Soon). “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.”

Directed by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, The Great Wall is a monster movie that takes place 1,000 years ago. “At its core, it is a period piece and an action film. The fantasy element does play a major role because of the monsters,” Yimou told EW in July. “But, what makes our film unique is that these are ancient Chinese monsters. Even though it’s a fantasy movie, we filmed it in a very realistic way. We want it to feel like the events actually happened. Other than the monster, all aspects of this film are backed by either scientific or historical research.”

After the film’s teaser was released the film was criticized for having Damon in a key role. “We have to stop perpetuating the racist myth that [only a] white man can save the world,” Fresh Off the Boat star Constance Wu wrote in a widely circulated tweet. “Our heroes don’t look like Matt Damon.”

In response to the controversy, Yimou released a statement saying the film “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,” he said. “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.”

Speaking on Saturday, Damon echoed Yimou’s sentiment. “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,” Damon said. “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.”

The Great Wall is out on Feb. 17, 2017.