A new trailer for "The Great Wall" just came out, starring Matt Damon as a member of an elite force fighting for humanity on the iconic wall in China. It's a monster movie. Fictional. But the "whitewashing" backlash the stars and director Zhang Yimou faced when the first teaser came out was 100 percent real.
"Yeah, it was a f*ckin' bummer," Damon said during a New York Comic Con press conference (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. To get those charges levied against you... What bummed me out is I read The Atlantic religiously and there was an article in The Atlantic. I was like, 'Really, guys?' To me whitewashing was when Chuck Connors played Geronimo. [laughs] There are far more nuanced versions of it and I do try to be sensitive to that, but [co-star] Pedro Pascal called me and goes, 'Yeah, we are guilty of whitewashing. We all know only the Chinese defended the wall against the monster attack.'"
Pedro Pascal jumped in to joke, "Don't quote me!" Damon added, "Look, it was nice to react a little sarcastically because we were wounded by it. We do take that seriously." Pascal said, "We don't want to be kept from work that they wouldn't have the opportunity otherwise to see that is very specifically Chinese. It is a creature feature. It's a big, fantastical popcorn entertainment movie, but it has a visual style that is Zhang Yimou's and his only."
"The Great Wall" is the largest film ever shot entirely in China, and it's Yimou's first English language film. He released a statement (via Entertainment Weekly) in response to the white savior/whitewashing controversy:
"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."
Damon added that, if people watch the movie in February and still think there was whitewashing involved, "then I will listen to that with my whole heart. I will think about that and try to learn from that." But he said he would be "genuinely shocked" if people had that reaction after watching the movie, and feels "you are undermining your own credibility when you attack something without seeing it."
Here's the new trailer:
"The Great Wall" will be released February 17, 2017.
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