Matt Damon, whitewashing and more..
The recent whitewashing debate over the upcoming film starring everyone’s favourite humble genius Matt Damon, The Great Wall, has been going around media like wildfire.
Everyone has an opinion, as always, and we decided to bring you some of the data so you can make up your own mind! After listening to me of course…
In 2012 the top grossing film to be made by a production house in China was Looper. The film was written and directed by Rian Johnson, an American, and was by all means an American film so we can be relatively safe in assuming that the Chinese played a small part in the creation process. BUT, what is more surprising is that homegrown Chinese films, watched only by East Asian countries actually out performed Looper as the top-grossing films by at least $200 million in the years since then. In 2015 the total worldwide box office earnings for Monster Hunt was $4,025,072,192. I wrote it out in full so you can get a better look. That’s a lot. Let me put it this way; it beats Fast and Furious 7. By a long shot. Which means, despite the controversy surrounding the 40m free tickets handed out before the premiere and whatnot, driving a profit is clearly not an issue for the Chinese film industry at the moment.
That kind of throws the first argument out of the window – China makes more money with a Chinese film made for an East Asian audience than a substantial number of Western films do which are made for a Western audience. There may be several reasons behind this, let’s not go into that now. The point is they don’t need the money.
The fact is they could have cast whoever they liked, within reason, and still had a good profit margin, but maybe not as much coverage. And as some others, including Matt himself has suggested, that is what it is all about. By casting Matt Damon, a Hollywood household name, the film is ensuring Chinese actors to gain some screen time in front of otherwise inaccessible audiences.
Now you might need to turn around and ask yourselves why a famous white actor is needed to promote the film to a Western audience. That is a very good question. Then you might ask: Why is a Western audience not comfortable with a completely Asian cast? And that isn’t a great one, because they are.
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Curse of the Golden Flower, Hero, and House of Flying Daggers, all performed quite well and were enjoyed by Western audiences. Not to mention the success of some golden oldies with mixed casting such as Fist of Fury, Enter the Dragon, and Way of the Dragon where Bruce Lee actually kicks Chuck Norris’ butt. When you look at it Chinese cinema has actually enjoyed quite a decent ebb and flow of popularity in Western cinemas. Was there stereotyping at times? Most certainly there was, but I haven’t seen Jackie Chan complaining.
Whether Matt Damon plays a crucial part in protecting the Great Wall and that this will therefore imply that a white man is needed to save the day remains to be seen once the film premieres. Which might well be the case.
But perhaps it’s time to consider that this film maybe trying to do the opposite. That it might be trying to close the gap between these two cultures by giving us a story where heroes from both sides are fighting monsters. Not other humans dressed in different clothes. They are fighting actual monsters. Together.
And it would be nice if people did more research before accusing films of widening the gap, when they may actually be trying to bridge it.