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Zhang Yimou's 'The Great Wall' trailer incites accusations of Hollywood 'whitewashing'

By Caryn Schwartz (People's Daily Online)    14:56, August 02, 2016

The first trailer for the latest Zhang Yimou-directed film, “The Great Wall,” was released last week on July 28. Stars involved in the project include Pedro Pascal (“Game of Thrones”), Hong Kong actor Andy Lau and Chinese actress Jing Tian. However, what has many netizens up in arms is the fact that a white actor, Matt Damon, was cast in the movie’s leading role.

One of the most vocal detractors so far has been Chinese-American actress Constance Wu. Wu wrote a long Twitter post on July 29, excoriating the movie for what Wu sees as inexcusable Hollywood "whitewashing." The actress addressed one common argument, which is that films starring people of color don’t do as well in the box office: “Money is the lamest excuse in the history of being human,” Wu said. “If white actors are forgiven for having a box office failure once in a while, why can’t a POC [person of color] sometimes have one?” Wu also called out the underlying prejudice in the situation--the fact, she explained, that in popular culture, only white people can ever "save the world" and be the heroes.

Chinese netizens, meanwhile, have expressed mixed opinions, according to a report on ifeng.com. Some muse that since so much of the screenwriting and investment was handled by Americans, there is little that can be done. Others are glad that, even if the lead actor is white, most of the other actors in the film are Asian, and many are Chinese.

According to news site Guancha, the renowed Chinese director himself responded to criticism over his casting decision in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. He explained: “This movie is told from the viewpoint of an American audience. In the process of filming it, I made every effort to retain authentic Chinese elements.”

Of course, the so-called whitewashing of the entertainment industry is not a new phenomenon in Hollywood, nor is it unheard of in China. The ifeng.com article recalls several past incidences, such as last summer when director Cameron Crowe received criticism for casting white actress Emma Stone to play an Asian-Pacific Islander in the movie “Aloha.” In 2011, actor Christian Bale starred in another Zhang Yimou film, “The Flowers of War,” while the 2015 film “Dragon Blade” starred John Cusack and Adrien Brody alongside Jackie Chan.

“The Great Wall” finished filming in July 2015. It will be released in China in December, followed by a February 2017 release in the U.S. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor: Wu Chengliang,Bianji)

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