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Matt Damon ‘whitewashing’ accusations point to a bigger Hollywood problem

Twitter has been blowing up this weekend with people accusing Matt Damon of whitewashing Chinese history in his leading role in the new Hollywood horror flick The Great Wall. The film’s trailer shows Damon decked out as a Hollywood version of an ancient Chinese warrior, leading Chinese troops in a fight against invading dragons. Not surprisingly, people have accused the actor of feeding into Hollywood’s “white savior” complex.

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“Over a billion people and they couldn’t find ONE Chinese actor to lead?” asks Twitter user @VainandAble.

While another, @AngryAsianMan, writes: “Things You Can Count On: Hollywood can set a movie anywhere in the world, in any era of history, and always find a way to star a white guy.” He shares his frustrations on his blog, writing: “It’s the latest movie in the grand cinematic tradition of the Special White Person.”

Several other users echo these views, pointing to larger issues of the serious lack of diversity in Hollywood blockbusters.

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Of course, the situation isn’t black and white. After all, it’s exciting to see Hollywood execs doing a big budget co-production with Chinese producers (Legendary, LeVision and The China Film Group have teamed up with Universal, who’s distributing the film), creating stronger ties between the American and Chinese film industries. That being said, the Twitter reactions to yet another white male actor getting cast in a hero role in which he must save thousands of nonwhite actors has prompted many to reflect on the lack of diversity in Hollywood.

When actors of color are cast in films, they’re more likely than white actors to appear in nonspeaking roles. Only 28.3 percent of nonwhite actors were given speaking roles despite the fact that 40 percent of Americans are not white, according to a 2016 study from The University of Southern California. Women of color were particularly underrepresented; the study authors called them “largely invisible” in the film and television world. The actors cast in only 7 percent of films properly represent America’s racial and ethnic diversity.

While it is great that we’ll be seeing more Asian actors in a Hollywood blockbuster, casting Matt Damon as the star of The Great Wall feeds into the trend of reserving the best roles for white male actors and doesn’t reflect the diverse reality we live in.

“Our heroes don’t look like Matt Damon,” writes Fresh Off the Boat star Constance Wu in a powerful post on Twitter. “They look like Malala. Ghandi [sic]. Mandela. Your big sister when she stood up for you to those bullies that one time.”

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