During a press conference following New York Comic Con’s panel for Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall, star Matt Damon answered for the whitewashing controversy the film generated when the teaser was first released. Damon’s reaction? “Yeah, it was a fucking bummer,” he said, explaining that he was “surprised,” given the charges were based on a just a teaser. “To me, whitewashing, I think of Chuck Connors when he played Geronimo,” he said. “Look, there are far more nuanced versions of it and I do try to be sensitive to that, but [co-star] Pedro [Pascal] called me and he goes, ‘Yeah, we are guilty of whitewashing. We all know that only the Chinese defended the wall against the monsters when they attacked.’” Damon added: “It was nice to react a little sarcastically because we were wounded by it. We do take that seriously.” Pascal for his part then noted that the movie is “very very specifically Chinese” with “Zhang Yimou’s lens.”
Damon—whose prior comments about diversity on Project Greenlight made him the subject of criticism—ultimately fell back on the “wait until you see the movie” argument. “If people see this movie and feel like there’s somehow whitewashing involved in the creature feature that we made up, I will listen to that with my whole heart and I will think about that and I will try to learn from that,” he said. “I will be surprised if people see this movie and have that reaction.”
Zhang issued a statement in rebuttal this summer, and the panel before a Comic Con audience did not address the topic. The director, however, did note that “this movie is made for the world audience.” He was speaking through a translator, over 100 of which he said were employed on the production of the film. For what it’s worth the Comic Con audience was probably just as excited—if not more—by the presence of Wang Junkai, a member of Chinese boyband TFBOYS, as they were by Damon, who was celebrating his birthday. (That detail will come into play in just a second.)
The panel did, however, get political when moderator Dave Karger asked about modern-day parallels to Donald Trump’s wall-building rhetoric. “I just got a text from my dad, that this reminded me I should probably read,” Damon began. “It said, ‘Happy birthday, my boy. My birthday present to you is letting you know that in exactly one month we can kiss Trump goodbye.” The audience erupted in cheers. He added: “Let’s leave our walls to the movies.” The Great Wall is due out in the U.S. February 17.