The Great Wall…Whitewashing?

The recent release of the up coming movie The Great Wall has come under some fire for possible whitewashing in the casting of Matt Damon in a seemingly leading role. The movie deals with the idea that the Great Wall itself, when it was built, was built to keep something out, something big and lizard like. Now there are a few different ways we can approach or look at this. The first is that maybe we shouldn’t have a knee jerk reaction to seeing Matt Damon and his whiteness at the top of the Great Wall, and there are a few different reasons why.

  1. We don’t actually know who or what Matt Damons character is right now. I think a big part, or a big reason this casting is being looked at as whitewashing is because people are looking at his character, as one that should be Chinese, but is being played by a none Chinese actor, when in fact his character may just be foreigner ( and yes I will get to the other side of this argument ).
  2. Like we’ve discussed on this blog before, there is a certain level of decision making here that is simply devoted what is most profitable. Director Zhang Yimou is probably best know for directing the movie Hero, and is one of China’s biggest directors and has been given the honour of directing this his first English language movie that also is one of the biggest budgeted film ever out of the region. The casting of Matt Damon in that regard is genuinely intended to be one to help merge the two largest pieces of cinema real estate right now.
  3. The trailer that we saw, was cut and made for a western audience, and if you’ve ever seen trailers made for western and eastern audiences, they are generally vastly different in which characters they show and what is emphasised in the movie.
  4. Other than the bits and pieces we can gleam from the trailer, we still don’t know the full plot of the movie and how Matt Damon fits in all of it.

Now on the other side of this coin, we can make many rebuttals to the points made previously.

  1. Even though we don’t know what Matt Damons roll in this movie is, just his being in a movie set in the time and place that it is set, he is taking away a role that could have gone to a Chinese actor.
  2. We’ve also previously discussed that part of the reason many studios don’t think they are bankable actors of certain races and genders, might be because they don’t ever roll the dice and give these actors a chance, and if they did they could see and have the same kind of success if not more with more culturally appropriate actors in specific roles. This movie being the financial juggernaut that it is should be all the more reason the bank on the quality of Chinese cinema, than perceived need to pander to american audiences with their own actors.
  3. This desire to bring these two movie going powerhouses together could also be represented across the advertising of the movie, in an attempt to bring as unified an ad campaign as possible, that simply plays up the movies strengths.
  4. No matter the story, it seems ridiculous to see a character like Matt Damon play such a prominent role.

And while i think there are merits to both sides of these arguments, there are even deeper ideas that i think we have to consider. Could we simply be calling outrage for people who themselves don’t feel outraged? A majority of polled Chinese movie goers, who mainly see “Chinese movies” that are made for Chinese audiences have expressed their interest in seeing other creeds and races in their own cinema. Could this be the first attempt not at just a unified Chinese American venture, but also an attempt to give the Chinese movie goers what they want, as well as give American audiences more incentive to go to the cinema and spend their money on a movie such as this? Wherever you stand on this, I don’t think their are any truly right and wrong sides here, even this editorial is meant to serve as more of an area for discussion as opposed to decision one way or the other. Even in this world where whitewashing and the like does genuinely occur, I think we could all take some times to look at things from all sides before we pick a side, and before we are so quick to vilify those who have made these decisions.


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