Effie Brown on Matt Damon’s Diversity Comments: “This is No Longer OK”

Effie Brown on Matt Damon's Diversity Comments: "This is No Longer OK"

With staggeringly low statistics for women and racial minorities behind and in front of the camera in Hollywood, it’s easy to lose hope that the tables will ever turn. Yet there seems to be a change of attitude in the public discourse. An increasing number of stars, like Emma Watson, Salma Hayek, Kristen Stewart and, most recently, Michael Moore, have spoken out about sexism in Hollywood.

The subject is getting a great deal of media attention as well. To contribute to that debate, the Film Society of Lincoln Center hosted a panel called "New Hollywood?"  at the New York Film Festival on Sunday night. The panelists debating if the tides are indeed changing were producer Effie Brown *currently on HBO’s documentary series "Project Greenlight"), producer and Columbia University professor Ira Deutchman, journalist Mark Harris, AK Worldwide executive Susan Lewis, Gamechanger Films producer Mynette Louie, actress Rose McGowan and producer Lydia Dean Pilcher

Moderator Eugene Hernandez, Deputy Director of the FSLC, kicked off the debate by asking Brown to discuss the controversial "Project Greenlight" scene in which she expressed her discomfort about a group of white men directing a movie about a black prostitute. (She preferred a directing team with a Vietnamese man and a white woman.) Matt Damon, her fellow consultant on the show, cut her off to manexplain/whitesplain (Mattsplain?) that "when you’re talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film, not the casting of the show.” To which a shocked Brown simply responded, "Wow, OK."

"That was the nice cut," said Brown about the clip that went viral and caused Damon to publicly apologize. "I couldn’t go head on against the biggest movie star in the world — I want to work again. This is a thing we all have to think about. I’m a ballsy chick, but he has a number one movie and an Oscar. I’m trying to pay my mortgage," she continued. "What was brilliant is that on social media, there was an immediate call and response. People tweeted and were on Facebook. This is clearly no longer OK."

"I think social media is giving women of color a voice, and we’re really loud," said Louie. and Lydia Dean Pilcher added: "I think it’s great that it happened, because what he said exhibits a wider understanding of diversity in Hollywood, and it’s the kind of thing that gets said all the time behind the scene."

Lewis provided an example: A studio head didn’t like a black woman director because she was being "too polite" and asked for her to be "a little messier." "If she’d come in and cursed, it would have been the opposite: the angry woman," said Lewis.

McGowan, who was fired from her agency for tweeting about sexist wardrobe demands, contributed to the horror stories, recounting how she just walked out of a meeting at Paramount because she was told about a practice where a caster would make actresses come in wearing bikinis to make sure the male decision-makers would be in the room. "I’m sick of it," she said. "There’s a deep problem with disrespect."

In a lot of cases, however, the issue is ignorance rather than conscious discrimination, said Brown.

"I don’t want to be bashing the dude," she said, referring to Damon, whom she later called "very intelligent and very thoughtful." "Because I do feel that his view, in his mind it made sense, and I do think it’s the view of quite a few people, because it made it on [the show]. And I don’t feel that he’s a malicious person, and I don’t feel they’re malicious…. They just don’t think about it."

"I feel like I have to be a teacher to some people," added Lewis. "I have to explain why your pitch may be really offensive because it’s about a magical Negro. … But maybe I can make an impact. Maybe they can be like, ‘Oh, you’re making a good point.’"

"Most aren’t these terrible men; it just hasn’t occurred to them," added McGowan. "When it occurs to them, sometimes great things happen."

And changes are underway in Hollywood, argued Ira Deutchman. He believes that the studios’ failure to reach mass audiences –which in Hollywood’s mind equals young men — may motivate them to rethink their repertoires from a purely economic perspective.

"For every big superhero movie that makes hundreds of millions of dollars, there are two or three that are failing at the moment," he said. "When Donna Langley from Universal says, ‘We’re not going to deal with $200 million superhero movies that I don’t know has franchise potential or not. Let me just take some smaller bets on other audiences and see what happens,’ then you end up with the biggest summer of any studio…. It does give me hope that maybe it’s not one of those things that gets cycled back around again, where everybody’s going to forget that the audience exist."

"The audiences in movies and especially in TV have been sending a lot of messages saying that they are very receptive to diverse filmmaking and programming," said Mark Harris. "My frustration is in seeing how invested certain agents in the business are in not hearing that. They see every diverse thing as an exception if it exceeds."

While change is still coming slowly in film, women directors have experienced "a modest improvement" in television, according to the DGA’s latest diversity report.

The panelists all agree that TV is the future, especially for women and minorities.

"I think film is becoming like theater, where it’s a very rarified art form that is for white people mostly," said Louie.

"TV is challenging film no matter what," said Brown. "I’m the queen of the little movie, and I’m over it. It’s so rare to make money on a little movie, and it’s so hard to make money on a little movie. So I think the Internet and also doing TV, is the way to go. And the fact that we can be there and hold down the fort — I love it."

"Not only are we there, we are kicking ass," added Lewis. "This is the space that we [black women] can own, and people want us."

"On TV, we’re getting to the point where there’s actually freedom to fail," said Harris. "Saying ‘Give us a chance and we’ll prove it and give you a success’ is one of the great economic arguments, but it’s also a devil’s bargain. Because it invites people when something flops to say, ‘See, we tried, but it just didn’t work.’ … Freedom to fail is really crucial, because no one says, ‘No more movies with Adam Sandler.’"

No one says "No more movies with Matt Damon," either.   

"’The Martian’ is the number one movie. So even though everyone was in a flutter about Matt Damon, that wasn’t enough to stop the ticket sales," said Brown, who still finds the experience with the "Project Greenlight" media storm positive.

"What really surprised me is that you guys got it. I really did think that I was alone with that whole diversity comment. Like maybe Black Twitter will get it. I even said that when I talked to HBO. ‘Black Twitter is real.’ What made me feel great is that it grew. It became a bit of a moment, and everybody — black, white, Asian, everybody — came up and said, ‘This didn’t make any sense,’" Brown said. "But I still haven’t heard from Matt Damon."

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Comments

pendo

When someone has a card they can play, they will play it. It’s human nature. Stop demanding jobs based on your color or ethnicity.

Excpired

This whole thing makes no sense. Matt Damon gets blasted for saying that he wants to consider the choice based on their merits as filmmakers not on the fact that they are an asian/woman directing duo because its racist to not select them since they are minorities?

So in other words anytime a minority is in the running for a job, we have to choose the minority or its racism… makes perfect sense -_- I also don’t get how a white guy isn’t allowed to tell a story about a black prostitute, to me that limits the exposure people have to these stories more. Minorities shouldn’t be pigeon-holed into telling stories only about their culture or plights and white people shouldn’t be pigeon-holed into only telling generic white-people stories. This whole dynamic is extremely racist and limiting. I can’t wait for the day that Americans quit judging everything through the spectrum of skin color.

Deanna Cherry

History is important and data is important. The entertainment industry is run by white men – all the history and data shows that to be true. Women and people of color are rare exceptions. Matt Damon said something so offensive by dismissing the importance of diversity among those who produce the work. It was so bad that it caught me off guard. Particularly given his history of progressive causes. I should have known by now – that progressives continue to be a big part of the problem – because they don’t really engage on race. They don’t understand how they participate in structural racism. And I include myself as a "white progressive". I saw on the show that Effie’s staff was made up of about half people of color. That’s why having Black and Latino producers is critical. They break up the white boys club. The fact that they kept Matt Damon’s comment on the show demonstrates they had no idea how bad it would look. I continue to wokrry about the show, and how it is playing people off one another. I know this may be the industry – but it’s not good. It’s why I promised myself years ago, after an internship with Sony Pictures, that I wouldn’t find myself working for these kinds of folks. But there is an obvious need for good, informed, thoughtful people in the industry. I hope Matt Damon honestly learned something and works with Effie again – but I doubt his progressiveness will take him that far.

AaronJ

@DJ — You’re right, I did misread it. And I’m sorry about that. I may have had a "couple" of beers before I read your post. :) Yes, we agree.

DJ

@AaronJ — We’re actually in agreement and you misread the 2nd half of my response. Look, anyone who can strings of credits in this business is a survivor so I respect her for that. My point was that even she is complicit with the entire system (and, to some degree, undermines her own argument) is she’s not willing to lose her job for it. Until then, she’s playing it both ways.

Chizz

The media is obviously part of the problem at this point. Such old news.

Jean Vigo

How distressing it is that Ms. Brown has to fear about career security by going head on with Damon. This business is like the Mafia. This is EXACTLY the problem with the business. It’s more about lip service than actual care for good work. "Don" Damon or Matt "El Jefe" may be starring in "The Martian" (and he may look like a goof in that space helmet) but he also did "We Bought A Zoo" "The Monuments Men" "Hereafter" "The Green Zone" and "Elysium" to name a few. Enough stinkers for ya? And handsomely paid…"Project Greenlight" is the most disingenuous, pandering, and insulting concept to the art of filmmaking. Nothing is worse than giving aspiring filmmakers the idea that they have to win some competition to work in this industry. Yeah, Kubrick won one; Scorsese, too: Bigelow; Truffaut. Heck, even Affleck/Damon won a reality show to launch their careers. I’d tell Ms. Brown to go straight for the jugular on human props like Damon. Go make great work, Effie. And forget living in fear of "The Five Families" of Hollywood. See: Megan Ellison. Just do it! Damon lives in the larger fear that his "star" status will diminish and it WILL. But, the 100s of millions will be enough to dry his tears. He’s not smarter than anyone else. He just has studios salivating at his supposed marketing/score reports to justify tentpoles on his name above a title. Not in this day and age. It can change on a dime. So, let "Space Helmet Guy" live in his own entitlement of "I’m right." Ask regular folk what Matt Damon means to them – NOT MUCH. Just a guy on TV every so often….Go make a great movie Effie – and if "they try to sabotage it – aka THe Movie Mob – let it be known! Break down those doors! Go!

AaronJ

@Avenger07 — Well, he has the #1 movie right now and his films have grossed nearly $3 billion during his career.

@DJ — Imagine her argument being applied in another field. For example, Tim Cook (CEO of Apple) calls in Sir Jonny Ive to his office. "Jonny, look, you’re the best. You’ve won tons of awards, been knighted, and your designs have helped make Apple the world’s most valuable corporation. But we need to let you go. We just need more diversity." Or another example. "Listen, I know you’re arguably the best hitter on the planet, Miguel Cabrera. You’ve won multiple batting titles and MVP awards, and even a Triple Crown. But we already have like 9 or 10 Venezuelans on this team. We need diversify. It was great having you around, though." Does that make even the slightest amount of sense to ANYONE?!

AaronJ

@DJ — One, I give her no props. Her argument is absurd. Two, history is full of people who not only were willing to risk their jobs but their LIVES for what they believed in. Telling off Matt Damon is nothing compared to what so many have sacrificed. And as someone else said, it’s somehow relevant to her argument that Ben’s GREAT-grandparents owned slaves?! In what universe?

Avenger07

Why and how Matt Damon is still considered an "A list actor I will never understand.

AaronJ

I don’t watch the HBO show — and can now say I have absolutely no interest in doing so, ever — but wow does this Brown woman sound like an epic stereotype. How anyone could possibly disagree with what Damon said is totally beyond me. OF COURSE your only concern should be who is the most talented person you can get for any possible job. WTF else are you supposed to be considering?

The Ghost of Grandpa Affleck

You’ve officially lost the argument if you’re blaming Matt Damon because the great grandparents of Ben Affleck owned slaves. And Matt Damon should be forced to hire a directing team he didn’t like because of Birth of a Nation?

DJ

I give Effie Brown huge props, but this statement pretty much sums up the dilemma of diversity, activism and commerce: " "I couldn’t go head on against the biggest movie star in the world — I want to work again."
In the end, the end goal even for the most sincere, socially conscious and committed won’t allow them to risk it all, including their jobs.

Keil S.

What is new about his piece? Why is it still front page news? He said nothing new, nothing is happening with it. It’s over. Stop being so desperate for division.

LeonRaymond

@GUSTAVO -Yeah but you are looking at it from a perspective of not seeing the entire picture-try existing in a industry in which Untold years of racial unfairness was one you were forced to exist in. Remember this is an Industry that still regards BIRTH OF NATION one the best films ever done. This is about a straight up White dude lecturing POC about diversity from his entitled elitist perch. There should be balance in selections. We need to get away from this notion of CHRISTMAS TIME ON THE PLANTATION in which we are told to make films that appeal to a white audience but are asked to keep the numbers of folks on project that are POC down to a small few counted on one hand and then we can make the film. No diversity is open to all colors. We don’t need lecturing on diversity from a dude who’s best friend’s Great grandparents owned slaves. if it was a balanced method to all this yeah fine and NO RACE OWNS ANY MEDIUM -impossible

gustavo

When you make a movie you need a good crew, a reliable one. The color, gender of a crew member should not be what decides one’s participation in a project. It’s a commercial/artistic product, and the quality/merit of each member should be the only way one should be assessed.

ps. I’m from south america, a latin, a so-called minority.

Effie Brown is a racist

We live in a backwards time when racial and gender-based preference is considered "liberal", and Matt Damon has to apologize for selecting people on who he thought would do the best job. And Susan Lewis is excited about TV because black women can "own" it? How about no race owns any medium?

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