Hollywood’s struggle with celebrity whitewashing flared up all over again this week over the new American/Chinese collaboration The Great Wall starring Matt Damon, and this time, Constance Wu is having none of it.
Wu currently stars in ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, a loosely-adapted version of Eddie Huang’s memoir about his Asian-American childhood. She’s been one of the most visible faces on the front lines against white-washing. Early Friday afternoon, Wu tweeted fury over The Great Wall, frustrated that Hollywood keeps making the same mistakes.
“[I]t’s about pointing out the repeatedly implied racist notion that white people are superior to POC and that POC need salvation from our own color via white strength,” Wu wrote on Twitter. “When you consistently make movies like this, you ARE saying that. YOU ARE. Yes, YOU ARE. YES YOU ARE. Yes, dude, you fucking ARE. Whether you intend to or not.”
She continued: “We don’t need salvation. We like our color and our culture and our own strengths and our own stories. (If we don’t, we should) We don’t need you to save us from anything. And we’re rrrreally starting to get sick of you telling us, explicitly or implicitly, that we do.”
You can read the whole thing below:
Matt Damon is starring in the Zhang Yimou-directed fantasy film about China’s historic landmark being built as a defense against giant monsters, which is set to release early next year. Damon plays a wandering European mercenary who gets caught up in the story, and the film’s trailer makes it abundantly clear he’s the most important character.
The film is an effort by Universal and Legendary to appeal to the budding Chinese film market, the second in the world and primed to become number one in the next few years. While many outlets have been mostly fascinated by the premise, you could almost see the backlash coming a mile away in the photos exclusively released by EW. And now that backlash is here.
“Think only a huge movie star can sell a movie?” Wu rhetorically asks in her statement. “That that has NEVER been a total guarantee. Why not TRY to be better? If white actors are forgiven for having a box office failure once in a while, why can’t a POC sometimes have one? And how COOL would it be if you were the movie that took the “risk” to make a POC as your hero, and you sold the shit out of it?!”
It should be pointed out how Damon in The Great Wall differs from the other instances of white-washing.Caucasian performers have historically taken roles from people of color — usually with poor make-up — but Damon’s role in the movie is of a new, original character, who is meant to be white. Damon (who it should be clarified is an actor doing his job and was likely not involved with these decisions) isn’t “white-washing” any character.
What Damon’s character represents, however, is another clear instance of the white-savior trope seen in films like Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai, and James Cameron’s Avatar, with the Na’vi as stand-ins for indigenous natives to white imperialists with a whole lotta guns. The film posits that only a white guy can come in and save China’s most identifiable landmark. Historical inaccuracy aside, that is way weirder than the idea it was built to keep monsters away.
Legendary and Universal will release The Great Wall on February 17, 2017.