I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” – Martin Luther King, Jr
Earlier this month, HBO premiered a new season of Project Greenlight, seemingly out of the blue. I don’t have HBO, so I didn’t even hear much rumblings about a new season being developed. In order to get people hyped about it, Damon edited in a bit of controversy to get people talking about it and watching the show. That bit of controversy was a very brief conversation about racial diversity between the various producers of the show.
If you hadn’t read, Matt Damon, executive producer of Project Greenlight, had hired a team of producers for the film that Project Greenlight documents the making of. The team was comprised of a whole bunch of white people, headed by Damon, Ben Affleck, and the Farrelly Brothers (Kingpin, Me, Myself and Irene), with one black woman representing their token minority producer (it is 2015 after all). That minority producer is Effie Brown, who cut her teeth on movies like But I’m A Cheerleader and Real Women Have Curves, and more recently produced Dear White People.
In the scene, Effie Brown brings up diversity as a criterion for choosing the winning director. With a script where the only black character is a prostitute who is slapped by her white pimp, she found the film to be further perpetuating Hollywood’s ongoing diversity problem. In August, USC Annenberg released their annual diversity study, finding that, in the top 100 movies, male characters represented 70% of all roles, white characters represented 73% of all roles, and straight characters represented 99.6% of all roles. When Effie Brown is making the case that the only black character in the script is a black woman who is slapped by her WHITE pimp, she’s taking into account all of this invisibility that surrounds Hollywood.
Brown’s main method to help that problem is by hiring more diversity behind the camera. Hollywood’s diversity problem in front of the camera is a further extension of the diversity problems behind the camera. Last year in the midst of the Sony Scandal, when Tom Rothman replaced Amy Pascal as leader of Sony Pictures division, I did a quick minority report about all of the films produced under Rothman at Fox. There, I found that 3/4 of the movies spanning 1996 – 2012 made were with straight white men at the helm. In the USC Annenberg diversity study, they found that 5.8% of the directors were black, 2.4% were Asian, and that 2% were women.
These diversity questions weren’t coming out of nowhere. But, noted straight white dude Matt Damon came right out and told Effie, to her face, that they couldn’t fix diversity behind the camera because having a different worldview isn’t a noted skill, but that they would have to fix the diversity in front of the camera. Given that the one set of minority directors turned in a bad demo reel and had other issues to boot, having the contest winners be white people wasn’t an awful decision…but Damon’s statements were phrased to dismiss Effie’s concerns about diversity in the script, in front of the camera, and behind the camera, all while promoting a white agenda.
Quickly enough, that all blew over and I wasn’t mad. I hope that Damon takes notes of the things everybody said in the wake, and embraced it. Took it with love.
This week, to promote the new Ridley Scott
travesty film, The Martian, Matt Damon gave an interview profile to The Guardian. The Guardian opens up as the usual kind of puff piece, portraying Matt Damon as an everyman wearing a sweater that makes him look like a regular dude. He’s just a family man, married to a wife of over a decade with whom he had four daughters. At the end of a fairly lengthy interview, he addressed a question about the difficulty of being openly gay in Hollywood, under the guise that he performed as Liberace’s gay male lover in Behind the Candelabra. He started off well enough, but then he just kept talking…
Damon was a straight man playing gay. Is it harder for actors to be openly gay in Hollywood? “I’m sure. When Ben and I first came on the scene there were rumours that we were gay because it was two guys who wrote a script together.”
“I know. It’s just like any piece of gossip… and it put us in a weird position of having to answer, you know what I mean? Which was then really deeply offensive. I don’t want to, like [imply] it’s some sort of disease – then it’s like I’m throwing my friends under the bus. But at the time, I remember thinking and saying, Rupert Everett was openly gay and this guy – more handsome than anybody, a classically trained actor – it’s tough to make the argument that he didn’t take a hit for being out.”
He thinks attitudes are changing, and welcomes the introduction of same-sex marriage in California in 2008. “I think it must be really hard for actors to be out publicly,” he continues. “But in terms of actors, I think you’re a better actor the less people know about you period. And sexuality is a huge part of that. Whether you’re straight or gay, people shouldn’t know anything about your sexuality because that’s one of the mysteries that you should be able to play.”
Let’s have some context. Rupert Everett has a brutal reputation for being difficult. In 2014, he finally started admitting it in an interview with The Telegraph, “So people mostly said to me: ‘Oh, but you’ve been so difficult and you’ve blown everything for yourself, you’ve sabotaged your own career.’ To a certain extent, it’s true, but to a certain extent, it isn’t.” But, for the longest time, he used to counsel gay actors to not come out because it killed his career in the ’90s.
Now, part of that is especially true because it was the ’90s when he came out. Back then, being out limited a lot of your roles, and it was always surprising when somebody known for straight roles would come out as gay. But, lest we forget, Rupert Everett’s second to last big role was The Next Best Thing, in which he teamed up with Madonna to kill gay director John Schlesinger. To a certain extent, his reputation for being a difficult actor is very much earned. He probably knew that, but that didn’t stop him from claiming it was solely because he was gay.
Still, even if there is only marginal truth in Everett’s coming out killing his career, it’s nice to hear Damon acknowledging that being gay can be damaging to your career…but then he kept going.
When Damon says “whether you’re straight or gay, people shouldn’t know anything about your sexuality,” he’s speaking from a matter of a straight man. Still in modern society people are straight by default. I didn’t know Guillermo Diaz was gay until I saw Stonewall last week and did a little diving to figure out where I knew him from. He was straight by default, though he never hid his homosexuality.
Damon is straight by default (except when the gossip magazines make up shit). The beginning of The Guardian’s profile described his marriage to a busty bartender who popped out four children over the course of 13 years, illustrating it with a picture of Damon next to his wife in a low cut dress. I’m being unnecessarily overly crude here to illustrate a point; The Guardian described Damon’s love life in a fair amount of detail at the beginning of an interview where he tells actors that they shouldn’t be open about their own sexuality in the context of a conversation about homosexual actors.
When the gossip magazines talk about Zachary Quinto’s new boyfriend, or Oprah profiles Neil Patrick Harris’ marriage to a fairly lithe and defined chef and their adopted family of two, it’s the same thing. Coming out as gay should not be a hindrance to an actor’s success. If heterosexual Matt Damon can make out naked with overly-defensive-heterosexual Michael Douglas, then Mr. Quinto should be able to convincingly mack on a woman in whatever film he wants.
Now, this problem isn’t just confined to Matt Damon. Bret Easton Ellis, an out gay writer, made headlines last year when he said that Matt Bomer shouldn’t be cast as Christian Grey because Matt Bomer is gay and 50 Shades of Grey is too sensitive of subject matter (ed’s note: *snerk*) to let a gay man play a swarthy, sensual, heterosexual. Of course, Ellis was probably just bored, realized that he hadn’t grabbed any headlines in awhile, and needed some attention thrown his way lest he lose an opportunity to write another column for Vanity Fair, but his sentiments illustrated the larger point that straight men can play gay with no issue but gay men can’t ever go straight.
Unlike Ellis, who constantly doubles down rather than apologizes, Damon went on to offer up apologies both times in the tone of “sorry you were offended.” Which, fuck off. We don’t want apologies, Matt. Apologies are meaningless. I’m not here to ask for Matt Damon to be sorry for what he said. We want change.
I’m asking him to learn from the response, and to help be a force to change the industry. When we talk about the lack of women in roles behind and in front of the camera, how about promoting scripts with better female roles or working with more female directors? In the past decade, Mr. Damon, you’ve only worked with white male directors (the gay director he worked with: Gus Van Sant)…how about working with a woman for a change? Or maybe a minority director? How about producing screenplays that you’re not necessarily the lead character? You have money and clout. How about using it so we don’t have to look at straight white men doing their thing all the time?
Also, using Ellen to offer your non-apology? That was a low blow. Did you see the daggers in her eyes? She wasn’t having it, and I wish she would have told you just how wrong you were. Sometimes celebrity and fame are just a pair of golden handcuffs.