By: Grace Shallow
On the night of the Season four premiere of Project Greenlight, a show for people who would not normally have a chance to find stardom to start working the industry, co-executive producer Matt Damon made a comment that created a lot of criticism and a trending Twitter handle named “Damonsplaining”.
The winner of Season four of Project Greenlight will be directing a comedy film called Not Another Pretty Woman, in which the only black female character is a prostitute named Harmony, who is abused by her white pimp. Effie Brown, known for producing 17 feature films, was concerned that the role may perpetuates a stereotype of black women.
Damon and Brown were discussing, “the only team left with diversity” on the show, the pair being a Vietnamese male and a white female, and Brown supported the choice of these two due to their sensitivity to the portrayal of Harmony that another, non-diverse team may not allow. Damon said “When you are talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film not in the casting of the show,” meaning the diversity of the crew working behind the camera is not influential on the portrayal of characters or continuation of stereotypes. This comment sparked backlash against Damon and spotlighted a trend of underrepresentation of female and Black workers in the film industry. According to a study conducted by Dr. Martha M.Lauzen: “[…] programs with at least one woman executive producer, females comprised 43% of major characters. On programs with no women executive producers, females accounted for 37% of characters”. These results mean if there are more women working off screen on a production, it is more likely audiences will see more women working on screen. According to a study conducted by USC Annenberg’s Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative, which stated that of the films with a Black director, 40.2% of all characters were Black. When the director was not Black, only 10.6% of all on screen speaking or named characters were Black.
To Matt Damon’s deepest regrets, there is proof that diversity off screen affects the portrayal of the actors on screen in a way that is not supportive of the point he was making. This contributes to the label “Damonsplaining” which derives from the term “mansplaining”. Merriam-Webster.com recognizes “mansplaining” as a term describing a man who “talks condescendingly to someone, especially a woman, about something he has incomplete knowledge of ”. Damon’s comment makes it obvious that he is ignorant to a reality in the industry.
The effect of Matt Damon’s comment on public perception should not stop at the idea of “Matt Damon has no idea what he’s talking about when it comes to diversity”. The viewers can begin to see that Damon’s comment was not only out of line, but false. There is a legitimate issue concerning who audiences view as the successful, on-screen actors. As shown by the studies, there is a correlation between who is behind the screen and the characters on screen. Hence, Matt Damon is just a by-product of the issue that governs a large, money-making industry.