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‘The Great Wall’ Director Defends Matt Damon Against Whitewashing Controversy

Zhang Yimou states that he would never cast a film in a way that was untrue to his artistic vision.

The Great Wall Matt Damon

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Last week the first trailer for “The Great Wall,” starring Matt Damon, was released. While many were expecting a movie about the creation of the Chinese historical landmark, what audiences got was an action film about a mythical monster and the army that fought against it, with Damon leading the troops.

The trailer sparked controversy over the fact that it starred a white American actor and was accused of whitewashing. “Fresh Off the Boat” actress Constance Wu even tweeted in response of the film saying, “We have to stop perpetuating the racist myth that only a white man can save the world.”

READ MORE: Constance Wu Takes on ‘The Great Wall’: Casting Matt Damon Perpetuates a ‘Racist Myth’

In a statement to Entertainment Weekly, Chinese director Zhang Yimou addressed the controversy and explained that Damon’s character serves as an important plot point. 

“In many ways ‘The Great Wall’ is the opposite of what is being suggested,” the filmmaker stated. “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 project is the most expensive ever to be shot entirely in China and it’s estimated that its budget is at least $135 million. 

READ MORE: ‘The Great Wall’ Trailer: Matt Damon Takes On Marauding Beasts In Zhang Yimou’s Fantasy Film

“Our film is not about the construction of the Great Wall. Matt Damon is not playing a role that was originally conceived for a Chinese actor,” Yimou added. “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. The collective struggle and sacrifice of these heroes are the emotional heart of our film.”

The helmer concluded his statement by saying, “As the director of over 20 Chinese language films and the Beijing Olympics, I have not and will not cast a film in a way that was untrue to my artistic vision. I hope when everyone sees the film and is armed with the facts they will agree.”

“The Great Wall” will be released February 17, 2017.

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