ReThink Review: ‘The Great Wall’ – No, It Isn’t Racist Whitewashing

Pedro Pascal,Matt Damon,The Great Wall (film),Person of color,Racism,Constance Wu,White people,Gunpowder,Water.org,Group

As a progressive Asian American movie critic, I had a lot of conflicting biases and concerns heading into The Great Wall, mostly stemming from the announcement that Matt Damon would play the film’s star. Did this mean that The Great Wall would be yet another “white savior” film, where it’s up to a white character to save non-whites from their inability to solve their own problems? Would this be yet another case of “whitewashing”, where a white actor is cast as a non-white character? Or were the vociferous denunciations of Damon’s casting, its producers, and the film as a whole an example of knee-jerk liberalism based on incomplete information? Watch the trailer for The Great Wall below (review following). The Great Wall takes place during China’s Song dynasty and follows two European mercenaries — William (Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) — who accidentally stumble upon the Great Wall during their quest to obtain China’s fabled black powder (gunpowder). After being taken prisoner, William and Tovar soon learn that the sole purpose of the 5,500-mile Great Wall and the Nameless Order military unit defending it is to ward off the Taoties, a swarm of hive-mind alien monsters who landed on earth via meteor centuries ago and emerge to attack every sixty years. With the Great Wall as the only thing preventing humanity’s annihilation, William (an expert archer) joins with the leaders of the Nameless Order (Hanyu Zhang, Tian Jing, and Andy Lau) to fight the Taoties, while Tovar and another European prisoner, Ballard (Willem Dafoe), focus on escaping with enough black powder to make them rich. A reason why I was initially conflicted about The Great Wall is because I’m a huge fan of Matt Damon, as well as his progressive political stances and support for humanitarian causes like water.org, the non-profit he co-founded to provide millions of people with safe drinking water and sanitation. Also, I was lucky enough to meet and talk to Damon at the Los Angeles premiere of Manchester by the Sea (which Damon produced and is my favorite movie of 2016). It was a great thrill and I found him to be a lovely, genuine guy. On the other hand, I’m also a big fan of Constance Wu, the breakout star of Fresh Off the Boat, a vocal progressive, and an outspoken critic of Hollywood’s lack of diversity and its continuing history of under-/mis-representation of non-white stories and characters. As an Asian American who grew up yearning to see anyone like myself, my family, or my Asian American friends in TV shows and movies, this is obviously a subject very close to my heart, and I’m glad Wu is out there calling attention to it. When Damon was announced as the star of The Great Wall, Wu was one of Hollywood’s earliest and loudest critics of his casting, claiming that it was part of “the repeatedly implied racist notion that white people are superior to POC [people of color] and that POC need salvation from our own color via white strength.” She also called out the makers of The Great Wall and the film industry as a whole for their lack of courage and “lame” excuses...

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