I'm not seeing this white savior movie. Sorry, Matt Damon.
New York Comic Con has brought us some new information about Matt Damon's upcoming star turn in a creature feature set in ancient China called The Great Wall. As soon as early news about this movie emerged, so too did concerns that the movie would revolve around a classic "white savior" narrative involving Matt Damon's character coming to fight with the Chinese armies against the monsters and save them from the threat. Why do the Chinese characters in this movie need a Western outsider to show up and save them?
It's a very common trope in fiction to see a "white savior" showing up, joining an Asian organization or army, then proving that he is actually "the best" of them all. This is a concern that has been raised already about Iron Fist, as well as Doctor Strange, since both of those stories revolve around Western characters traveling to the East and learning how to be "the best" at whatever techniques they learn there. This is even a story that's been used in Wolverine comics and in the new Wolverine movies (with Wolverine traveling to Japan on a quest for self-discovery), and it also famously appeared in the 2003 action movie The Last Samurai. This "white savior" trope has been written about in media analysis texts for decades. It runs the gamut from a white character learning martial arts and eventually surpassing his Asian teachers, to a white character saving an entire Asian society from a threat using skills that apparently the Asian characters lack, for whatever reason.
Damon addressed the controversy himself on his panel about the movie at NYCC, but it doesn't seem as though he fully understands the problem at hand, let alone how prevalent it actually is. According to Coming Soon's transcript of Damon's words at the panel, he said:
"Yeah, it was a f*ckin' bummer. I had a few reactions. I was surprised, I guess because it was based on a teaser, it wasn't even a full trailer let alone a movie. To get those charges levied against you... What bummed me out is I read The Atlantic religiously and there was an article in The Atlantic. I was like, 'Really, guys?' To me whitewashing was when Chuck Connors played Geronimo. (laughs) There are far more nuanced versions of it and I do try to be sensitive to that, but Pedro Pascal called me and goes, 'Yeah, we are guilty of whitewashing. We all know only the Chinese defended the wall against the monster attack.'"
To point out the white savior problem that seems to be exactly what they're marketing is apparently undermining our credibility because we've only seen the teaser and trailer and not the entire film. Well, if it's not a white savior movie, then mebbe you should try not marketing it that way and then we wouldn't have to have this discussion.
And to add salt to that wound,
The Great Wall won't be passing the Bechdel-Wallace Test. There appears to be only one woman in the movie's main cast, to be played by Jing Tian. In this trailer, she appears to be the only woman fighting on the battlefield, but for some reason, the movie isn't about her experiences becoming a warrior woman in ancient supernatural-universe China... even though that sounds way more interesting than whatever Matt Damon's character does, which is show up, steal stuff, and shoot arrows. In this trailer, Jing Tian's character looks like a by-the-books "Action Girl", the only woman on the team. I'm willing to stake money that she'll end up as someone's love interest and, also, end up getting captured by baddies and rescued at least once.
Oh, she's totally going to end up a love interest. Most likely Damon's. Blech.