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Zhang Yimou addresses the whitewashing controversy circling The Great Wall

08.04.2016

Zhang Yimou The Great Wall Matt Damon

Zhang Yimou's THE GREAT WALL is the most expensive movie to be shot entirely in China, and part of the reason they were able to throw so much money at the production was because they had a bankable star like Matt Damon headlining the film. When the trailer for THE GREAT WALL was finally released last week, there was an immediate backlash which accused the film of whitewashing, with Fresh Off the Boat star Constance Wu saying that "our heroes don't look like Matt Damon" and the film was "perpetuating the racist myth that only a white man can save the world." Director Zhang Yimou (HERO) wasn't having any of that however and addressed the controversy in a statement provided to Entertainment Weekly.

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.

So Matt Damon has not come in and scooped up a role meant for someone of Chinese descent, and, contrary to what the very Matt Damon-centric trailer would have you believe, he's not the sole focus nor the only major hero of THE GREAT WALL. Whitewashing and diversity in film is a touchy issue and no matter what is done, you can bet that somebody will be offended. So let's step back and (hopefully) enjoy the craziness that Zhang Yimou has in store for us when THE GREAT WALL hits theaters on February 17, 2017.

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Source: EW

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11:14PM on 08/07/2016
I'm more interested in language barriers here. Is Matt Damon going to understand and speak Chinese, or are all the Chinese actors going to be speaking English to Damon?... or are the Chinese going to speak Chinese, and Damon is going to speak English, and nobody knows what each other is saying... Who's going to be dubbed, and who's going to be subbed?
I'm more interested in language barriers here. Is Matt Damon going to understand and speak Chinese, or are all the Chinese actors going to be speaking English to Damon?... or are the Chinese going to speak Chinese, and Damon is going to speak English, and nobody knows what each other is saying... Who's going to be dubbed, and who's going to be subbed?
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1:25AM on 08/06/2016
This is a non-controversy. It is in no way historically insensitive as it clearly a fantasy novel. Everyone is making a judgement call before they know anything about the movie. What If this is a film about people of different ethnicity coming together for the common good? The film's Chinese director has no problem with it, nor does seemingly anyone who lives in a China. The only people who do seem to be upset are ignorant people on the internet with too much time on there hands.
This is a non-controversy. It is in no way historically insensitive as it clearly a fantasy novel. Everyone is making a judgement call before they know anything about the movie. What If this is a film about people of different ethnicity coming together for the common good? The film's Chinese director has no problem with it, nor does seemingly anyone who lives in a China. The only people who do seem to be upset are ignorant people on the internet with too much time on there hands.
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10:53AM on 08/05/2016
Saw the trailer for this with Suicide Squad and heard snickering throughout the theater when Damon appeared. This should probably be nothing more than your first gut reaction to his casting as an American film-goer though because the truth is that this film couldn't have found success over here, (or likely wouldn't) without him. Why is that you say? It's because American audiences would just write it off as another Chinese production for a niche audience that likes foreign made productions and
Saw the trailer for this with Suicide Squad and heard snickering throughout the theater when Damon appeared. This should probably be nothing more than your first gut reaction to his casting as an American film-goer though because the truth is that this film couldn't have found success over here, (or likely wouldn't) without him. Why is that you say? It's because American audiences would just write it off as another Chinese production for a niche audience that likes foreign made productions and casts. It wouldn't have been able to secure its budget or maybe even a theatrical release here at all. So, the next time you accuse something like this of whitewashing just remember that it's our own damn fault as American audiences that we haven't really given anything Chinese besides Crouching Tiger a chance in this marketplace. Honestly, I had more of a problem with the casting in Gods Of Egypt, which managed to stray so far from the appropriate ethnic casting it deserved in many of the roles, (Geoffrey Rush as Ra??!!) that it was basically a bad joke.
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10:27AM on 08/05/2016
While I believe "whitewashing" is a phenomenon that the film industry has been guilty of on many an occasion, I deliberately withheld judgement regarding this trailer because nobody had a full understanding yet of the plot. Glad I didn't jump out the window with unfounded criticism like others did, and I'm happy Mr. Yimou responded the way he did.
While I believe "whitewashing" is a phenomenon that the film industry has been guilty of on many an occasion, I deliberately withheld judgement regarding this trailer because nobody had a full understanding yet of the plot. Glad I didn't jump out the window with unfounded criticism like others did, and I'm happy Mr. Yimou responded the way he did.
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9:29AM on 08/05/2016

Double Standards

Why do people lose their minds when a "White" actor plays a role that is clearly meant for an actor of a particular race to play, but if you have a "black" actor play a well known character who isn't the race of that actor no one gets upset? White person plays any other race role = outrage, but any other race person playing White role = OK
Johnny Storm/Michael B. Jordan= Ok, Heimdall /Idris Elba= Ok, Ancient One/Tilda Swinton= Not Ok, Deadshot/Will Smith= Ok, Ripcord/Marlon Wayans= Ok,
Why do people lose their minds when a "White" actor plays a role that is clearly meant for an actor of a particular race to play, but if you have a "black" actor play a well known character who isn't the race of that actor no one gets upset? White person plays any other race role = outrage, but any other race person playing White role = OK
Johnny Storm/Michael B. Jordan= Ok, Heimdall /Idris Elba= Ok, Ancient One/Tilda Swinton= Not Ok, Deadshot/Will Smith= Ok, Ripcord/Marlon Wayans= Ok, Motoko/Scarlett Johansson= Not Ok
I know there's more and with different races swapped but these seem to be the most popular online.
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11:43AM on 08/05/2016
It has to do with the issue that, in the western world (so, not China) people who are black, Indian, East Asian, and to some extent Latinos, aren't offered the same variety of roles as Caucasians. Maybe they're the gangbanger or the IT guy, but not the conquering hero. In a world that is more multicultural than ever before.

Also, people DID lose their minds over the Johnny Storm casting. And Motoko is not only a Japanese character, she has a Japanese name.
It has to do with the issue that, in the western world (so, not China) people who are black, Indian, East Asian, and to some extent Latinos, aren't offered the same variety of roles as Caucasians. Maybe they're the gangbanger or the IT guy, but not the conquering hero. In a world that is more multicultural than ever before.

Also, people DID lose their minds over the Johnny Storm casting. And Motoko is not only a Japanese character, she has a Japanese name.
7:45AM on 08/05/2016
I believe Zhang Yimou meant what he said. The man with such great reputation wouldn't do something hastily. And from the looks of it, the movie really is Chinese production that Matt Damon happens to be one of the characters.
I believe Zhang Yimou meant what he said. The man with such great reputation wouldn't do something hastily. And from the looks of it, the movie really is Chinese production that Matt Damon happens to be one of the characters.
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1:34AM on 08/05/2016

I am sure it is very historically accurate

As one who majored in East Asian Studies, I can tell you full well that this movie is most definitely historically accurate, with a white guy having some kind of role during the building of the Great Wall.
Also, Game of Thrones is a true story.
But ultimately, do I care? Not so much. Like Yimou said, it's ONE white person in a fantasy adventure. Also, if it ensures more funding, so be it. A small sacrifice when you employ so many other people from China. I was more upset when they cast
As one who majored in East Asian Studies, I can tell you full well that this movie is most definitely historically accurate, with a white guy having some kind of role during the building of the Great Wall.
Also, Game of Thrones is a true story.
But ultimately, do I care? Not so much. Like Yimou said, it's ONE white person in a fantasy adventure. Also, if it ensures more funding, so be it. A small sacrifice when you employ so many other people from China. I was more upset when they cast non-Japanese actresses in MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. Why did they do it? Most certainly to get more money for the production, AND from the audience, since it was hot off the tales of that Crouching Dragon Tiger movie. I think Constance Wu should rant about THAT.
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1:43PM on 08/05/2016
East Asian Studies sounds like a cool major. That's all I really had to add here, hehe.
East Asian Studies sounds like a cool major. That's all I really had to add here, hehe.
12:23AM on 08/05/2016
Constance Wu of "Straight off the Boat" wrote something about this that went viral, and sadly illustrated just how ignorant we can be in America. I mean, if you didn't know better, Matt Damon really looks out of place in this. But the fact it's a Chinese production from no less a director than Zhang Yimou, many of the complaints said a lot more about the people complaining than they did about the state of movies as a whole.
Constance Wu of "Straight off the Boat" wrote something about this that went viral, and sadly illustrated just how ignorant we can be in America. I mean, if you didn't know better, Matt Damon really looks out of place in this. But the fact it's a Chinese production from no less a director than Zhang Yimou, many of the complaints said a lot more about the people complaining than they did about the state of movies as a whole.
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1:21AM on 08/06/2016
I seriously can't take her seriously. It's ironic because I don't think there are any Chinese people offended by this. Not people of Chinese origin but actual Chinese natives. I just can't help but think she's an entitled, Hollywood idiot who did this because she's all caught up in identity politics just like all the rest of them.

Plus, please explain to us the nobility of staring in a series entitled "Straight off the Boat" if your planning on criticizing culturally insensitive
I seriously can't take her seriously. It's ironic because I don't think there are any Chinese people offended by this. Not people of Chinese origin but actual Chinese natives. I just can't help but think she's an entitled, Hollywood idiot who did this because she's all caught up in identity politics just like all the rest of them.

Plus, please explain to us the nobility of staring in a series entitled "Straight off the Boat" if your planning on criticizing culturally insensitive material.
11:48PM on 08/04/2016
Whitewashing is a serious issue in Hollywood, but a lot of the complainers here (and I was one of them before looking into it) don't realize that it is an almost entirely Chinese production. I commend Yimou for speaking honestly about casting Damon, however I have hard time disagreeing with anyone willing to bet that if they could have received the funding they got with an Asian actor in the lead role instead of Damon they would have. To get to the point where a foreign film to get funding like
Whitewashing is a serious issue in Hollywood, but a lot of the complainers here (and I was one of them before looking into it) don't realize that it is an almost entirely Chinese production. I commend Yimou for speaking honestly about casting Damon, however I have hard time disagreeing with anyone willing to bet that if they could have received the funding they got with an Asian actor in the lead role instead of Damon they would have. To get to the point where a foreign film to get funding like this without a white actor (or Will Smith or Denzel) in a prominent role it will likely take many films like The Great Wall to come out and be successful. It's not perfect, it's reality.
As a side note, I really hate when dipshits complain about "PC police" or SJWs, but a lot of this outrage feels like people venting their white guilt in an echo chamber.
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11:38PM on 08/04/2016
rriiigghht. because damon is the right kind of white guy so its OK.
rriiigghht. because damon is the right kind of white guy so its OK.
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+1
11:13PM on 08/04/2016
The term simply doesn't apply here. End of story.
Damon would've known better anyway, if it was the case.
The term simply doesn't apply here. End of story.
Damon would've known better anyway, if it was the case.
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2:50AM on 08/05/2016
Because of his history of brilliance?
Because of his history of brilliance?
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