Zhang Yimou defends controversial casting of Matt Damon in The Great Wall
Director rejects accusations of whitewashing, claiming the fantasy adventure is ‘deeply rooted in Chinese culture’
Director Zhang Yimou has stood by his decision to cast Matt Damon as the lead role in his new film The Great Wall, after some critics claimed it amounted to a “whitewashing”.
The film-maker, whose credits include Hero and House of Flying Daggers, has responded to the negative reception of the film’s trailer last week. “In many ways The Great Wall is the opposite of what is being suggested,” he said in a statement to Entertainment Weekly. “For the first time, a film deeply rooted in Chinese culture, with one of the largest Chinese casts ever assembled, is being made at tentpole scale for a world audience. I believe that is a trend that should be embraced by our industry.”
The big-budget period epic features Damon as a soldier in ancient China battling evil creatures. Constance Wu, star of sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, tweeted that the film perpetuates the “racist myth that [only a] white man can save the world”.
Yimou is keen to address the misconception that the film rewrites history and positions Damon as a saviour of the Chinese people. “Our film is not about the construction of the Great Wall,” he said. “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.”
He claims that he would never “cast a film in a way that was untrue” to his artistic vision.
The Great Wall is an American-Chinese co-production with an estimated budget of about $140m (£106m) and will be released in December in China before a national release in 2017.