The "Bourne Identity" actor's comments about diversity sparked controversy this week. (Photo by Thore Siebrands, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Ugggh. I hate it when actors talk off screen and reveal who they really are. It makes it practically impossible to ever watch them on screen again. Although, now that I think about it, this gigantic drama Matt Damon’s gotten himself into happened on screen because his pet movie gig “Project Greenlight” is an HBO show.
I haven’t even seen the entire episode in question, and have no desire to. I stopped paying attention to him when he dropped out of the Jason Bourne movies — where he did very little talking — and I really wrote him off in 2011 when he started talking crap about President Obama. Apparently he stumped really hard for the President. Then he expected him to turn water into wine, despite being a black man with a legion of folks actively working against him, while heading up a country during one of the worst recessions in history, but I digress.
This time, Damon interrupted film director and producer Effie Brown. Big whoop, right? Until you consider that Brown is a black woman with dozens and dozens of film credits to her name, and when he jumped all over her lines they were talking about diversity. And he didn’t interrupt her once to tell her about it — he did it twice. Let’s examine that.
First, Matt Damon, you’re a white man of privilege with a lot of money and influence. Why on Earth wouldn’t you listen to a double minority telling you to be cautious about on screen characterization of another double minority? Oh wait. I guess I answered my own question; you’re a white man, of privilege, with a lot of money and influence. Apparently, you don’t have to listen to anyone, nor are you going to.
He's probably still shaking his head and complaining that everyone’s jumping on him for no reason. If he hasn’t said, “I’m not a racist,” at least three times since this whole thing jumped off, I’ll eat my hat.
Damon offers a rather lukewarm apology, but it was less an apology and more a kind of lopsided pat on the back for himself. Then he trots out the whole, things were lost in editing rigmarole. Right. This is your show, man. I doubt very seriously that you didn’t see the episode before it aired. You didn’t think there was anything wrong with your behavior. That’s why we got to see it.
The whole thing reeks of, “I know what’s best. Just pipe down and listen to me.” That’s part of what’s wrong with diversity. That’s why there’s been so little progress. People with a lot of money and influence don’t want to listen when someone who doesn’t have those things tells them they’re wrong or that they’re missing something vital.
Brown was politeness itself in the 30-second clip heard ‘round the world when she urged the then unnamed director of the film to be careful how the black prostitute, the only minority in the script — shocker — was handled. Damon didn’t even let her finish. What she had to say wasn’t important. And when she pressed him again, he revealed that diversity shouldn’t even be an issue. When talking about diversity, he said, “You do it in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show.”
But that is exactly the issue. That’s why we’re having so many issues now. If more women and minorities were sitting in the power and influence seats, we wouldn’t have the only minority character in a film be a black prostitute!
Damon stressed that merit was more important than diversity. But again, that’s exactly why diversity practitioners are working so hard to level the playing field – so women and minorities can catch up. So we’re not hamstringed by likely unintended but still rude interruptions rife with unconscious bias, and once all of the players are at the plate with equal training and equipment behind them, we can be judged on merit – not just judged.
The arrogance and the ignorance Damon displays is troubling, and that was in only 30 seconds worth of video. Thirty rather horrid little seconds that seemingly rubbed the entire Internet the wrong way, all done with a Linus Caldwell-esque smirk on his face.
In his apology he says: “… at the very least, I am happy that they started a conversation about diversity in Hollywood. That is an ongoing conversation that we all should be having.” Um, actually? The time for conversation is long over. That’s the whole point Brown was trying to make before Damon cut her off like some thirsty production assistant. When you’re actually doing the film — be careful how you portray minorities. Period.
Did I mention he’s married to a Latina woman? Sigh.
All I can say is poor Ben Affleck. First Nanny-gate, now this. I don’t know about you, but I freely admit to being a creature of bias, and I tend to judge people by the company they keep. Old Ben’s been tarnished big time by his bro Matt, in my eyes, and I’m sure in many others. Still, they say things happen for a reason. I can only hope this unflattering spotlight brings about some deep thought and some positive action in Damon’s future movie-making efforts.
This blog post has been edited from its original version.