Actors are by definition illusionists, and Matt Damon’s illusion is cracking. Long known as the “nice guy” of the Affleck/Damon duo, Damon’s boyish good looks and everyman versatility made him the perfect container for characters ranging from heroic to goofy to sinister. As revealed in a recent interview in which he admitted to casually using “the f slur” as recently as “months ago,” Damon’s everyman has a side that’s more in line with the common man of Trump’s America.
Following an interview with the UK’s Sunday Times, Damon received swift backlash for what he clearly deemed a harmless, if not positive, anecdote.
“The word that my daughter calls the ‘f-slur for a homosexual’ was commonly used when I was a kid, with a different application,” Damon told the Times. “I made a joke, months ago, and got a treatise from my daughter. She left the table. I said, ‘Come on, that’s a joke! I say it in the movie ‘Stuck on You’!’ She went to her room and wrote a very long, beautiful treatise on how that word is dangerous. I said, ‘I retire the f-slur!’ I understood.”
Users on social media were quick to point out that while using the homophobic slur was never acceptable, to have only stopped saying it in the year 2021 is particularly egregious. Also damning: Damon offered the account with no apparent awareness of the bitter reprisal to follow. In response to the criticism, Damon issued a statement in support of the LGBTQ community, while clumsily denying his comments.
“During a recent interview, I recalled a discussion I had with my daughter where I attempted to contextualize for her the progress that has been made – though by no means completed – since I was growing up in Boston and, as a child, heard the word ‘f*g’ used on the street before I knew what it even referred to,” Damon said in a statement to Variety, going on to mention the word’s use in his 2003 comedy “Stuck on You.” “I have never called anyone ‘f****t’ in my personal life and this conversation with my daughter was not a personal awakening. I do not use slurs of any kind.”
Damon emphatically stresses his support for the LGBTQ community, but he does a disservice to himself (and those he aims to appease) by denying ever using the word. In his carefully worded statement, he seems to be implying that since he has never “called anyone” the slur in his “personal life,” he is above reproach. He then directly denies using slurs of any kind, despite having only just admitted to saying it in the August 1 Times interview.
(He also says it in this GQ interview from 2007, while discussing what he and Affleck did with the “Good Will Hunting” money. “We knew it would just be so gay to get the same car. And our friends were making fun of us. Like, ‘You fags, what are you doing,” Damon said.)
This is not Damon’s first brush with viral infamy. Twitter users were similarly appalled in 2015 by a clip of Damon cutting off “Dear White People” producer Effie Brown during an episode of his own show, “Project Greenlight.” “When we’re talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show,” Damon says in a combative tone. Brown, clearly shocked and uncomfortable, responds: “Hoo. Wow. OK.”
The backlash gave rise to the hashtag “#Damonsplaining.” Once again, Damon had an apology to issue, in a form that mirrors his most recent statement. He opened by saying he “believes deeply” in the need for more diversity in filmmaking, adding that he wants “every young person […] to believe that filmmaking is a viable form of creative expression for them too.” There is no mention of Brown and no direct apology to the Black woman he spoke over and shut down to explain “diversity.”
Then, he backpedals, denies, and tries to obfuscate his wrongdoing with excuses and explanations.
“My comments were part of a much broader conversation about diversity in Hollywood and the fundamental nature of ‘Project Greenlight’ which did not make the show,” he said. “I am sorry that they offended some people, but, at the very least, I am happy that they started a conversation about diversity in Hollywood.”
The public apology has practically become a rite of passage for celebrities and public figures, though at this point Damon has had more than his fair share. Saying he’s sorry “some people” got offended when he yelled at Brown on camera is not a genuine apology or taking of accountability. Neither is his meandering explanation about growing up in Boston hearing the word “f*g.”
Damon’s Times interview, though oblivious, reads as a much more genuine accounting of his personal evolution than a statement clearly cobbled together by a committee of crisis managers who prefer plausible deniability to outright apology. All he had to say was: “I used this word until recently, and that’s unacceptable. I’m sorry.” Why is that hard to grasp? Children do it all the time.
Maybe Damon’s daughter needs to write another treatise, this time on how to apologize. That seems to be the only way to get to him.