Diversity facepalm: Matt Damon's mentality is killing Hollywood

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Maybe Matt Damon missed the memo that diversity in film isn’t solely about the actors who appear on-screen.

Or, more likely, he just doesn’t get it.

During the season premiere of HBO’s show Project Greenlight, there’s a moment when Damon interrupts, talks over and then summarily dismisses the comments of Effie Brown (the producer of the film Dear White People and many more) during a conversation on, yes, diversity.

Brown took issue with the fact the movie the Project Greenlight team is developing only has one black character — a prostitute — who gets slapped by her white pimp.

Not only does Damon disallow her from finishing her point, he essentially disregards her complaint by stating, “When we’re talking about diversity. you do it in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show.”

All Brown could say is “Wow.”

What Damon is essentially saying is that “It’s cool to throw some blacks, Mexicans, women and gay folks on screen, but you don’t actually need anyone like that working behind the scenes.”

To believe that, is to believe that white people (mostly men) are so far in tune with every culture, every ethnicity, and every gender identity that they can flawlessly and accurately represent those cultures to the larger mass media without actually engaging people from those communities in a meaningful way.

The idea that they can imagine and create non-stereotypical representations of other cultures is problematic for a host of reasons, but probably most of all due to the fact that, well, they never have.

For me, Debbie Allen is important. Mara Brock Akil is important. Yvette Lew Bowser is important. I grew up watching TV in the 80s and early 90s.

I saw one black family living in a mansion in Bel-Air and another black family where the mom was a lawyer and the father was a doctor. I saw an eclectic and beautiful group of students find themselves at their HBCU and a black and Hispanic duo of detectives fight crime on the streets of New York. I saw strong black women fearlessly Living Single and another group of hard working, professional black women dealing with life’s BS together, knowing all they truly had was each other, their Girlfriends.

Today, despite some strong inroads in recent years, there’s a different reality.

When diversity isn’t displayed behind the camera, you get only 16.7 percent of movies with non-white leading characters, and 7 percent of films having women directors. When diversity isn’t displayed behind the camera, you get corny black tropes and misogynistic caricatures of femininity (such as constantly needing to be saved or disciplined by the “stronger” male character).

The danger of Matt Damon’s comments is not just about the perceived slight to the artistic, creative community but how it reinforces the very nature of white supremacy itself. To be behind the camera is not just about being a writer or a director, it’s about being a decision maker, an executive and a person with real, actual power.

His comments aren’t just about one industry, but the nature of industry itself. The idea that people of color, women, and other minorities don’t “need” to be involved in the formation of a corporate hierarchy in any role more powerful and influential than the bottom rung is, well, the height of racism.

Does that mean that Damon is racist? Not necessarily, but if he considers himself an ally to women and people of color, it’s critical that he divorces himself from propagating white, male leadership as the only successful way forward.

Truthfully, Matt Damon is a brilliant actor. Matt Damon is a fierce activist. Matt Damon is one of Hollywood’s most intriguing personalities. With that said, Matt Damon is also clueless about the necessity and importance of diversity.