Last night was the fourth season premiere of HBO’s Project Greenlight—a Matt Damon and Ben Affleck passion project where they give first time filmmakers the chance to make a movie. It also provided a platform for Matt Damon to deliver a masterclass in whitesplaining—a whitesplaining sermon, if you will.
They enlist a group of producers to help them choose their finalists—the group included a bunch of white guys and one white woman.
The finalists are flown to Los Angeles to meet in person with the producers. At these meetings, they introduce Effie Brown, an experienced Hollywood producer and a black woman. She has produced seventeen feature films, including Dear White People and boy, the Irony Gods are working overtime today.
As the only person of color in the group, Effie clearly understands that any attempt at diversity will be on her shoulders. She recalls growing up in the 1970s where most of the time when she saw black people in films, they were playing gangsters, criminals and prostitutes. She also explains that she is passionate about making films where marginalized people are recognized. Basically, she is their only line of defense against making yet another all-white dude project, something at best incredibly tone deaf or, at worst, a racist shitshow.
During a discussion about one of the films, Brown helpfully points out that she’s worried that the only black person in the entire movie is a prostitute who is slapped by her white pimp. All she’s saying is that perhaps this roomful of white people should be cognizant of who they hire to direct a character like that—AKA hire some people of color so they can treat the role with some dignity and prevent it from descending into a racist trope.
“You’re looking at this group right here and who you’re picking and the story that you’re doing,” she says calmly. Luckily, Matt Damon is there to swoop in with this Smart White Man cape and interrupts Brown in order to explain diversity to her and this room full of white people. He argues that actually, the less diverse directing teams brought up the same issue about the prostitute character that Effie is raising.
Effie counters by saying that his summation is “not necessarily true,” and Matt Damon interrupts her again, this time by laying out what exactly diversity is.
“When we’re talking about diversity you do it in the casting of the film not in the casting of the show.”
Meaning that they don’t have to hire any diverse filmmakers on Project Greenlight as long as they throw a few women and black people onscreen.
Just so we’re clear, Matt Damon thinks that diversity in Hollywood amounts to simply hiring people of color to be in the movies—not allowing them any power to make the movies themselves.
He doesn’t seem to grasp the concept—and stay with me here, because this is a CUH-razy idea—if you hire diverse filmmakers, the movies will probably end up being diverse. You don’t actually have to pick one or the other.
In a moment that made me cringe and really feel for Effie, she responds that she’s not angry and only has love in her heart. Because god forbid a black woman express a bit of indignation at being interrupted in front of her peers to basically be told that she doesn’t understand diversity.
Following this exchange, everyone else in the room looks incredibly uncomfortable and they start barking out that hey, wait a minute, they also have a problem with the black prostitute character, dagnabbit, which, sorry, I’m not buying. They all just know they’re being filmed.
In a later interview, Matt Damon says, “I’m glad Effie flagged the issue of diversity for all of us.”
Then he spits the same tired rhetoric about how if they worry too much about hiring diverse filmmakers, the’ll undermine the integrity of the entire project. The only factor they should be considering is merit, leaving “all other factors out if it.”
Obviously this is correct because we all know the only reason Hollywood is dominated by white men is because white men are the only creative people on Earth who know how to make films real, real good.
As a producer of Project Greenlight, Damon must have approved of the inclusion of this exchange. I’d like to think that he decided to include it because showing himself being so incredibly wrong could be a lesson for other filmmakers. But the cynical side of me thinks it was included because he felt he had made his point well and wanted the world to hear it.