When news broke that Universal and Legendary Pictures had tapped ‘House of Flying Daggers’ director Zhang Yimou for a monster movie that recounts the untold story behind the building of the Great Wall of China, movie fans should have been ecstatic about the collaboration. Instead, when the first trailer was released for ‘The Great Wall’ recently, it was hard to be anything but disappointed since this period fantasy thriller set in ancient China puts Matt Damon front and center of the action. In other words, another “white savior” is here to rescue people of color once again. In case you missed it, here’s the trailer:
Instead of being excited for Yimou’s first English-language film, the largest film ever shot entirely in China, or the most expensive Chinese movie of all time, we have yet another classic case of Hollywood whitewashing. Naturally, in the wake of the controversies surrounding Scarlett Johansson starring in ‘The Ghost in the Shell’ and Tilda Swinton playing The Ancient One in ‘Doctor Strange’, the Asian community wasn’t going to stay quiet about this. For starters, Asian American blog Angry Asian Man hit the nail on the head:
Things You Can Count On: Hollywood can set a movie anywhere in the world, in any era of history, and always find a way to star a white guy.
— Angry Asian Man (@angryasianman) July 28, 2016
But for a more elaborate analysis of just how messed up the casting of this film is, ‘Fresh Off The Boat’ star Constance Wu chimed in with a lengthy tweet that not only calls out the use of one of the most played out tropes in all of movies, but also the deep-rooted problems within the industry:
Similar to the actress’ experience, I’m sure that there are plenty of people who are tired of hearing what I have to say on this matter. But representation absolutely matters and, to quote the trailer, “This is the first war that I’ve seen worth fighting for.” This goes beyond #OscarsSoWhite because practically all media in this country lacks Asian representation. It happens so much that people are surprised to hear that Asian faces are prominently featured in anything.
Let me tell you a story. I’m a huge fan of ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ on The CW. Despite the cringe-worthy name, I checked it out after I heard that it starred a Filipino-American leading man (the first American sitcom to do so, I might add) and I connected immediately. Because of this, I’ve been championing the series created by Rachel Bloom since shortly after the first few episodes aired. Although, it took the show being nominated for some awards for a few of my friends to finally get on board. One of those friends is now as dedicated to the show as I am, so she’s out there singing its praises as well. Now, when she went out to hype this show to everyone she knew, a friend of hers asked if the lead actor was attractive. After she said yes, the friend then assumed that he was blonde-haired and blue-eyed. Of course, Vincent Rodriguez III is neither of those things. So why would someone automatically make the assumption that the star of a show was white? My friend (who happens to be white) couldn’t understand why that was, but I know why. Up until very recently, white faces were the default heroes in just about everything. Genre productions such as sci-fi and fantasy were the only ones that deviated from that formula once in a while, but if a monster movie co-produced between America and China about ancient Chinese mythology that was entirely shot in China can’t even get an Asian star, then which stories are Asians supposed to meant to star in if not the ones tailor made for them to shine?
As Wu said in her post, this isn’t about blame. How do you blame Damon for taking a buttload of money to star in ‘The Great Wall’ or the financiers for bringing in an international movie star so audiences would watch their movie? Instead, this is about awareness. The industry needs to know that we’re tired of being underrepresented in our media and we’re tired of our stories being whitewashed so that they’re “suitable” for western audiences. Let’s just hope that the right people are listening so that at least the next generation gets to see leading actors and actresses that look like themselves in their favorite movies and TV shows.
‘The Great Wall’ starring Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, and Andy Lau hits theaters on February 17, 2017.