Zhang Yimou, the director of upcoming film “The Great Wall,” has responded to the controversy surrounding the casting of Matt Damon in the film, which is set in 11th century China.
Zhang, the critically acclaimed director behind “House of Flying Daggers” and the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening and closing ceremonies, defended Damon’s casting in a statement to Entertainment Weekly, saying, “Matt Damon is not playing a role that was originally conceived for a Chinese actor. The arrival of his character in our story is an important plot point.”
The movie had received significant criticism for its casting of the Hollywood star. “Fresh Off the Boat” star Constance Wu wrote on Twitter that the movie is “perpetuating the racist myth that only a white man can save the world.”
“Our heroes don’t look like Matt Damon,” she wrote. “They look like Malala. [Gandhi]. Mandela. Your big sister when she stood up for you to those bullies that one time.”
Zhang also defended the film against charges of racism by pointing out that Damon is only one of five “major heroes” in the story, with the other four being Chinese.
“For the first time, a film deeply rooted in Chinese culture, with one of the largest Chinese casts ever assembled, is being made at tent pole scale for a world audience,” he wrote. “I believe that is a trend that should be embraced by our industry. “
“Great Wall,” which is produced by Legendary and Universal, was the brainchild of Legendary CEO Thomas Tull and “World War Z” writer Max Brooks. Its original iteration featured Henry Cavill and Benjamin Walker as 15th century British soldiers who come across the construction of China’s Great Wall during their travels through the country.
Zhang replaced Ed Zwick as director after the script rewrite.