[Image via The Washington Post]

Next February, Matt Damon stars in a movie centered around the Great Wall of China. According to the film’s director Zhang Yimou, there’s a reason for that and it’s not whitewashing.

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This comes in the wake of the surrounding decision to cast Scarlett Johansson as augmented-cybernetic human Motoko Kusanagi in The Ghost in the Shell.

As Channel NewsAsia reports, there has been pushback regarding the decision to cast Damon, and, as of writing, the trailer—which doesn’t explain much other than the Great Wall, Chinese warriors, Matt Damon, and monsters—has 7,826 likes and 6,309 dislikes.

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“Our film is not about the construction of the Great Wall,” Zhang said in an statement released to Entertainment Weekly earlier this month. “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. The collective struggle and sacrifice of these heroes are the emotional heart of our film.”

With credits like Raise the Red Lantern and Hero, Zhang is one of China’s most respected filmmakers. The Great Wall is his English-language debut and is being made by a Chinese-owned Hollywood studio. Compared to previous China-Hollywood co-productions, which might only feature a few scenes set in China, The Great Wall is making a big international push for a Chinese-themed movie. That stars a white guy, that is.

The Great Wall is fantasy, but The Washington Post points out that having Damon as a European mercenary who shows up to save Ancient China could be perplexing when considering the country’s real history of oppression under European imperialism. Again, this is fantasy and a movie, but the larger issues, such as actual history or Hollywood’s casting decisions, could be why it’s already drawing criticism. For Zhang, however, this isn’t about the movie he says he wants to make.

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“As the director of over 20 Chinese language films and the Beijing Olympics, I have not and will not cast a film in a way that was untrue to my artistic vision,” Zhang continued in his statement. “I hope when everyone sees the film and is armed with the facts they will agree.”

Guess we’ll see when The Great Wall opens next February.

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