Diversity 101: Why Matt Damon needs to stop talking, start listening

Apologies with conditions (or a conjunction) are not real apologies. Such was the nature of Matt Damon’s “apology” about his whitesplaining/mansplaining moment on Project Greenlight with Effie Brown...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Apologies with conditions are not real apologies.

Such was the nature of Matt Damon’s “apology” about his whitesplaining/mansplaining moment on Project Greenlight with Effie Brown.

Brown, a very accomplished black woman filmmaker, was trying to make a point about the importance of having people of color behind the camera, especially when telling the stories of people of color, when Damon interrupted her to tell her essentially that diversity is important in front of the camera, not behind it. Of course, Twitter let Damon have it over his extraordinarily tone deaf commentary.

White privilege much?





Damon was instantly dragged for filth online for his remarks. It took the actor a few days to come up with the following weak ‘apology’:

I believe deeply that there need to be more diverse filmmakers making movies. I love making movies. It’s what I have chosen to do with my life and I want every young person watching “Project Greenlight” to believe that filmmaking is a viable form of creative expression for them too.

My comments were part of a much broader conversation about diversity in Hollywood and the fundamental nature of “Project Greenlight” which did not make the show. I am sorry that they offended some people, but, at the very least, I am happy that they started a conversation about diversity in Hollywood. That is an ongoing conversation that we all should be having.

Damon did not acknowledge that anything was wrong about his comments on diversity.

So, he’s sorry that the comments he made, that he apparently still feels are right, hurt some folks’ feelings, BUT (that “but” nullifies any sincerity) he finds comfort in the “fact” that he started a conversation about diversity in Hollywood.

That conversation has been going on for years, and the only new thing learned from Damon’s entitled commentary is that he himself holds that perspective. The tired statement he made is typical Hollywood trope.

To state that diversity is only necessary in front of the camera is a sobering commentary, especially coming from a powerful, Academy Award-winning white man in Hollywood. What Damon is missing is that having people of color as content creators means having more people of color in front of the camera as well. People of color in behind-the-scenes roles like producers, directors and writers are critical to creating authentic, nuanced projects. When there are no people of color in decision-making positions, we end up Ridley Scott’s Exodus film, a movie about Egyptians that had an all-white cast. Scott recently responded to criticism about the lack of brown skin in Exodus:

I couldn’t get a film like that mounted for that kind of budget — we were $145 million, not $260 million, so that wasn’t bad – but to make Moses black and his wife Ethiopian? They never would have made the movie.

If “they” were black people, Exodus could have been made with actual Egyptians and Ethiopians to tell the story of Egyptians and Ethiopians. In order to rid Hollywood of this notion that only stories about white people are universal, there has to be a change in not only which stories are told but how those stories are told and presented.

Damon should sit down with dynamic filmmakers like Effie Brown, Ava DuVernay and Dee Rees and listen to them talk about accurately telling the stories of black people and the specific and archaic obstacles that they face in making those projects come to life.

The important part of that is for Damon to listen, not talk. All of the privileges afforded to him as a man and a white person were on full display when he interrupted Brown to “explain” what diversity means.

This Project Greenlight situation is a rare public flub for Damon. His impassioned (and curse word laden) comments about the importance of teachers went viral last year, and he has a general reputation of being a nice, hardworking guy. If Damon wants to keep his reputation pristine, he’ll need to do more than issue a lazy, entitled apology.

The important work of bringing the stories of people of color to the masses is not done by just putting a couple brown faces in front of the camera. Damon and the rest of Hollywood have to make a conscious effort to include people of color on all levels of the creation process, and doing so would not lessen the quality of the resulting films. There are talented, qualified people of color available and ready to do the work. Hollywood needs to catch up.

Follow Demetria Irwin on Twitter at @Love_Is_Dope and connect with her on Facebook.