Matt Damon apologizes for Project Greenlight diversity comments

17 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Matt Damon Apologizes for Comments on Diversity Behind the Camera.

In the latest episode of HBO’s Project Greenlight, where first-time filmmakers are given the chance to win money to direct their projects, he appeared to suggest that diversity was important in front of the camera, but not necessarily behind it.In a statement issued Wednesday, the star of the upcoming film The Martian said, “I believe deeply that there need to be more diverse filmmakers making movies.The uncomfortable exchange that occurred between Matt Damon and movie producer Effie Brown on the season four premiere of HBO’s “Project Greenlight” is indicative of everything that is wrong with current cultural understandings of diversity. In the wake of strong online criticism, Matt apologised for his remarks adding that he was glad that they had sparked ‘a conversation about diversity in Hollywood’.

The incident went like so: When challenged about her preference for a directing team composed of a Vietnamese man and a white woman, Brown (a respected producer in her own right) defended her choice by asking her white colleagues to consider the optics of a room full of white people choosing a white male director to make a film about a Black female prostitute. Later, Damon says that he’s glad Brown “flagged the issue of diversity,” but believed that point of Project Greenlight is to give “somebody this job based entirely on merit and leaving all other factors out of it.” The episode angered viewers, sparking a strong social media backlash. Matt Damon immediately became defensive, cutting Brown off in mid-sentence to tell to her that, “ when you’re talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film, not the casting of the show.” Brown cocked her head to the side, clearly (and rightfully) offended, saying, “whew, wow, ok,” as she waited for Damon to complete his thought. Many of us have felt the pressure of challenging the ways that whiteness is operating unnoticed, even as we are also saddled with the baggage of representing for our race/gender.

When we demand, politely of course, that diversity take place on every level from the boardroom to the stage, frequently we are met with white defensiveness. Matt Damon’s defensiveness showed up in the way he spoke over Brown as she was speaking, the manner in which he then suggested that the directing team she wanted had no problem with the film script, the condescending way that he explained diversity to Brown as though his (erroneous) view was the only possible one, and then the condescending and dismissive way that he later offered his “appreciation” for Brown “flagging diversity” for her colleagues. Outrage on social media was directed to the hashtag “Damonsplaining” — a take on “whitesplaining,” defined by the Urban Dictionary as “the paternalistic lecture given by Whites toward a person of color defining what should and shouldn’t be considered racist, while obliviously exhibiting their own racism.” “You highlighted the problem w/even well-meaning white ppl,” one user wrote Brown on Twitter. “They still think they know better how to represent [people of color] than PoC.” It wasn’t just the Twittersphere that was up in arms. Breitbart: “Left Eats Liberal Matt Damon for Offering Opinion about Diversity.” “The left’s been wetting its pants over this for the past 24 hours so we can’t be more than a day away from a groveling Damon apology,” the conservative Web site Hot Air wrote. “Let’s get you up to speed so that you can enjoy the blue-on-blue while it lasts.” “Ooof!” she wrote. “Wow! Whether we are speaking about increasing racial access to education or jobs, the term merit is thrown around as though it exists in opposition to diversity.

I can’t wait to hear you on the other episodes!” Perhaps Affleck — who warned over the weekend that this season of “Project Greenlight,” which was revived after a decade-long hiatus, was “the riskiest season we’ve ever done” — was right. Just recently one of my best friends, who attended a prestigious liberal arts college told me about the white woman who said to her on her first day of school, “Oh you must be here because of affirmative action?” That she might have been admitted based on her high SAT scores never occurred to her classmate. Now we are dismantling public education through a combination of high stakes testing mandates and continual defunding of public schools, such that illiteracy rates in some urban areas remain abysmally high. For the last five weekends, two African American films – “Straight Outta Compton” and “The Perfect Guy”—have commanded first place ticket sales at the box office. Not only do Matt Damon’s statements reflect a troubling belief in the myth of meritocracy, but they also betray a troubling belief in notions of racial colorblindness.

The idea that our experiences of race and gender shape and inform how we perceive narratives and how we tell stories, makes many, many people uncomfortable. These notions of universality are the problem, because universal is code word for “white.” I’m not saying that there are not commonalities of human experience in which we can all share. Moreover, in the case of women like Brown, they are brought into these kinds of rooms in order to make the rooms look diverse, but they are not expected to say very much. Watching Brown struggle to get her rightful, righteous anger in check after being politely disrespected and dismissed by Matt Damon reminded me of the recent dustup between Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus at the MTV Video Music Awards.

Nicki therefore took the very public opportunity offered by an awards acceptance speech to call out “that bitch” Miley and to ask her in classic hip hop parlance, “what’s good?” Miley dismissed Nicki, citing the media’s manipulation of her comments. But then a few moments later, she said to Nicki,\\\ that she too had lost many awards, but she “persevered.” This notion of white perseverance is connected to notions of white merit. But Nicki’s critique makes clear that her colleagues who shake and gyrate in their songs don’t get the awards because they’re the best; they get the awards because they are white. Instead, she was pointing out that the color and gender of white men frequently affords them a shot, even when they have clear blind spots in their artistry that will affect the quality of the work they produce. But Brown’s point, that whiteness can sometimes be a critical blindspot when handling the lives of people of color, is something white people struggle to accept.

And if these narratives don’t begin to change, there will be many more instances of Black women wondering aloud to their colleagues, “What’s good?”

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