Last week the first trailer for The Great Wall dropped, and as it was a movie about China with its lead being not Chinese cries of white washing went up. And it is, of course, white washing.
It would make a lot more sense to have a fully Chinese cast here we assume having not seen the film, but at the same time this isn’t Gods of Egypt, where a white director casts white people to play Egyptians and then says some terrible stuff about it. To start Damon isn’t pulling a Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice and trying to be Asian. he’s playing a white guy. And Hollywood wants that Chinese market and this is a effing Chinese film, down to prolific Chinese director Zhang Yimou (Hero).
He had some things to say about the hubbub.
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.
Those are some strong words and completely accurate if it wasn’t for the fact that Damon’s casting is clearly the reason a big Chinese film got backing in the U.S. and that Damon is clearly the face of the film. Is it white washing? Of course. Studios think they have to do that to make money, but if it’s also in line with the creative vision of the director I can’t jump to terrible conclusions without having seen the film (although we know the Internet can).
We’ll just have to wait until this thing lands.