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Matt Damon's next movie, The Great Wall, premiered its first trailer last week, but this first look has since been overshadowed by controversy. Criticism has been directed at how a white man has been cast as the protagonist, despite the fact that the movie is set in ancient China. It's the latest in a series of protests at how white actors are repeatedly picked to be the leads in big blockbusters rather than actors of other ethnicities, known best as whitewashing. However, when it comes to The Great Wall, director Zhang Yimou is defending this creative choice.
Zhang sent EW an official statement earlier today detailing how the negative Great Wall reaction has been overblown, saying that the movie is still deeply rooted in Chinese culture, while being accessible to a world audience. He continued:
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.
Zhang went on to say that as the director of over 20 Chinese films and the Beijing Olympics, he wouldn't he wouldn't cast any of his movies in a way that was untrue to his "artistic vision," and hoped that those who eventually saw the movie would understand. While it's good to hear the movie's director provide his take on what's happening and vaguely described how Matt Damon's character fits into the story, his comments will unlikely sway the tide of controversy that much.
Whitewashing has been a common trope in Hollywood for a long time, but in recent years, it's been put under more scrutiny from both regular moviegoers and big-name entertainment talent. Some noteworthy examples include Scarlett Johansson being cast as The Major in Ghost in the Shell to Tilda Swinton playing The Ancient One later this year in Doctor Strange. As far as The Great Wall is concerned, actress Constance Wu expressed her disappointment with how Hollywood continually makes white actors as lead protagonists no matter what the story's content is, while non-white actors are frequently passed over, despite the fact that it's been proven diversity helps sells tickets. While The Great Wall marks the biggest collaboration yet between U.S. and Chinese movie studios, it's clear that many people are not impressed with how the main casting was handled.
Although first believed to be a historical feature showing how the eponymous Chinese barrier was built, The Great Wall's first trailer revealed that this is really a monster-fighting adventure. The movie's synopsis simply states that the mysteries surrounding the Great Wall of China will be explored during the Northern Song Dynasty. Aside from Matt Damon, the movie's cast includes Willem Dafoe, Pedro Pascal, Andy Lau, Jing Tan, Mackenzie Foy and many more.
The Great Wall hits theaters in China sometime this December, and the U.S. release will follow on February 17, 2017.