Matt Damon Apologizes Over 'Project Greenlight' and 'Whitesplaining'

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 9/17/2015, 5:08 p.m.
Matt Damon has apologized after sparking an uproar in the season premiere of HBO's "Project Greenlight" by explaining diversity in ...
Matt Damon

By Michael Pearson

CNN

(CNN) -- Matt Damon has apologized after sparking an uproar in the season premiere of HBO's "Project Greenlight" by explaining diversity in film to a successful black woman producer.

"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," Damon said in a statement reported by Variety and other outlets.

"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."

But some said the apology was tone-deaf.

"DEAR POWERFUL WHITE MEN IN HOLLYWOOD-Here's a thought-try DOING SOMETHING," actress Rose McGowan tweeted. "Your awareness means nothing."

Another Twitter user chided Damon for suggesting that his comments started a conversation about diversity.

"Black people have BEEN having this conversation," the tweet read.

The actor and director's original comments came during a discussion about whom would be chosen to direct the film that will be made as part of the HBO reality series.

Producer Effie Brown ("Dear White People") reiterated her support for a directing team of a woman and an Asian man as the best equipped to handle a sensitive role in the film.

"I just want to urge people to think about, whoever this director is, the way that they're going to treat the character of Harmony, her being a prostitute, the only black person, being a hooker who gets hit by her white pimp."

Damon then stepped in, downplaying the chosen director's race as a factor in how the character would be treated.

"When we're talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film not in the casting of the show," Damon said to a clearly flabbergasted Brown.

"Hoo. Wow. OK," she said.

He later thanked Brown for "flagging" diversity, but said merit had to be the only criteria.

A study last year by USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism found that films led by black directors were more likely to have diverse casts, but that only 6.5% of 2013's 100 top-grossing films had such directors.

Damon's comments brought a quick, angry response, with many using the derogatory term "whitesplaining" or the derivative "damonsplaining" to describe what to some appeared to be a white man lecturing a black woman about diversity.

"The white men sitting on the sofa with Effie Brown, Matt Damon being chief among them, could not stomach the proposition that their whiteness created critical blind spots that would prevent them from telling the story of a Black female prostitute with dignity and care," wrote Brittney Cooper, a professor of women's and gender studies at Rutgers University, in Salon.

While Damon's apology wasn't especially well received, Brown tweeted Tuesday that she was happy that the conversation was happening.

"Thank you for watching the show and getting a great conversation started," she tweeted Tuesday. "I can't wait to hear you on the other episodes!"

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