Chinese director Zhang Yimou, of Hero and House of Flying Daggers fame, made his English-language debut with The Great Wall, which opened Friday. But in a story set in ancient China, Matt Damon’s character sticks out like a sore thumb. The presence of his pale mug in movie posters and trailers drew backlash even before the film’s release. “We have to stop perpetuating the racist myth that only a white man can save the world,” Fresh Off the Boat actress Constance Wu wrote in a Twitter tirade. “We don’t need salvation.” Damon and Yimou both publicly defended the film, with Damon calling it “historical fantasy.”
The Great Wall exemplifies a related Hollywood trend where white characters play a dominant role in a foreign situation, while nonwhite locals are reduced to sidekicks or people “to be killed or rescued—or to have sex with,” as the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen put it recently. Vogue recently added to the outrage over cultural tone-deafness by presenting Karlie Kloss, an American model of German and Danish descent, as a geisha—for the magazine’s diversity issue, no less. Vogue later removed the photographs from its website and Kloss apologized for her participation, but it was yet another episode in America’s long history of whitewashing Asians. We’ll leave you with this brief history of the same. Dig around and you’re sure to find plenty more.
Mother Jones provides a very brief history of Hollywood’s more infamous whitewashing efforts when it comes Asian-based movies, starting with Charlie Chan in 1926, and ending with The Great Wall in 2017. Click over to see them all.
Matt Damon plays a European mercenary who saves China from monsters in The Great Wall. Actress Constance Wu takes issue: “We like our color and our culture and our strengths and our own stories,” she writes. “Hollywood is supposed to be about making great stories. So make them.”
Well, in response to The Great Wall’s upcoming release, people got the #ThankYouMattDamon hashtag trending, and it’s a hilariously sarcastic way for people to “thank” Damon for his all that’s he’s done to help stop people from thinking only white men can save the day. *eye-roll*