‘Great Wall’ director responds to whitewashing criticism

Zhang Yimou, director of the controversial “The Great Wall,” which has come under fire for whitewashing through its lead actor, Matt Damon, defended his film Thursday.

“Our film is not about the construction of the Great Wall,” Yimou, the name behind “House of Flying Daggers,” as well as the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, wrote in a statement to Entertainment Weekly. “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. There are five major heroes in our story and he is one of them – the other four are all 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,” Yimou said. “I believe that is a trend that should be embraced by our industry.”

Yimou went on to say that he “has not and will not cast a film in a way that was untrue to my artistic vision.”

Damon’s depiction in a trailer released last week of a white warrior wearing Chinese war garb during a period when the Great Wall was being put up drew criticism from social media users and from Hollywood stars, most prominently “Fresh Off The Boat” actress Constance Wu.

Wu, in a long message posted to Twitter, called for an end to “perpetuating the racist myth that only a white man can save the world.”

“Our heroes don’t look like Matt Damon,” Wu wrote. “We don’t need salvation. We like our color and our culture and our own strengths and our own stories. We don’t need you to save us from anything.”

The film, a U.S.-China co-production by Le Vision Pictures and Legendary Pictures, is a “3D science fantasy adventure-monster action film” also starring Andy Lau, Jing Tian, Lu Han, Pedro Pascal and Willem Dafoe.

It is the most expensive movie – boasting a $150 million budget – ever filmed in China, and is due for release in 2017.