Matt Damon melted many of our hearts the moment he flashed his Hollywood-ready smile in his breakout film “Good Will Hunting.”
His role as a Boston-bred working class hero done good made Damon an instant Hollywood sweetheart. In 1997, you couldn’t open a magazine without seeing the iconic photo of Damon and his buddy Ben Affleck, arm in arm and clutching their Oscars. They were the bros next door.
In the mid 2000s, as Damon’s fame rose along with his paychecks, he started marketing himself as a liberal Hollywood ally, even appearing in a documentary about climate change. He’s transformed from dude bro into a polished intellectual.
While Damon sells himself as a voice of progressive thought, has he ever stopped to listen to marginalized groups? Damon’s comments on diversity and women are often head-scratching. Just this week, he fell into some hot water when he commented about sexual harassment in Hollywood in an interview with ABC News.
“I do believe that there’s a spectrum of behavior,” Damon said. “There’s a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right?”
He goes on to say: “We live in this culture of outrage and injury, and, you know, that we’re going to have to correct enough to kind of go, ‘Wait a minute. None of us came here perfect.’”
His co-star in “Good Will Hunting” and ex-girlfriend Minnie Driver (who Damon famously dumped on national television) was not having it.
Alyssa Milano, who galvanized the wider adoption of #MeToo on social media, also schooled him.
In the ABC interview, Damon said this about men who have come forward and admitted they sexually harassed women: “At the moment … the clearer signal to men and to younger people is, deny it. Because if you take responsibility for what you did, your life’s going to get ruined.”
What are men learning from the #MeToo movement? According to Damon, it’s that their lives will be ruined if someone accuses them of harassment.
But here’s the thing: Don’t harass people. Then you won’t have anything to deny. Instead of being defensive, men who aren’t harassing women should listen to those who are directly affected by sexual misconduct.
Damon frames his response to #MeToo from the side of the accusers. He worked with Harvey Weinstein over the years, and after the watershed New York Times article was published, Damon made a point to say he never saw any harassment happen within in his eyesight in an interview with Deadline Hollywood.
“We know this stuff goes on in the world. I did five or six movies with Harvey. I never saw this,” Damon said.
Did anyone ever suggest that Damon was in the room with Weinstein and the women who have accused him of assault? And following Damon’s logic, what role does he see himself playing in Affleck’s behavior? In the aftermath of the Weinstein story, a video surfaced of Affleck touching MTV journalist Hilarie Burton’s breast during an interview. Affleck apologized. Damon has said nothing.
Damon is missing the point of the #MeToo movement. He is so sure that he’s right, and he’s not taking a moment to consider he may have a lot to learn, and it goes beyond sexual harassment. Consider Damon’s response to criticisms from people of color.
In 2015, during the filming of his HBO show “Project Greenlight” — which he produced with Affleck — Damon tried to explain to black filmmaker Effie Brownthat diversity is not about hiring a director of color, but instead about casting people of color in a movie.
“When we’re talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show,” Damon told her.
His quote absolves Hollywood executives from hiring directors of color, whose vision carries the film down the line and who make the major creative choices on set.
Two years later, Damon starred in “The Great Wall,” which drew its share of controversy over accusations of whitewashing. While Damon’s character was not playing an Asian man, the trailers for the film prominently featured Damon rather than the Asian characters in the film. Without plot context, audiences assumed Damon was taking on a role meant for an Asian person (which turned out not to be the case). It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption for audiences to make though, given that in 2015, Emma Stone played an Asian woman in “Aloha,” a casting choice that made many eyes roll.
“[The whitewashing news] suddenly becomes a story because people click on it, versus the traditional ways that a story would get vetted before it would get to that point,” Damon said.
Damon is a liberal bro who stubbornly refuses to listen to criticism by women and people of color have about his friends or his work. He doesn’t want to learn because thinks he already knows everything. His peers are trying to teach him something about sexual harassment and diversity, but Damon instead talks right past them and further digs in his heels. Even with a Hollywood smile and liberal credentials, Damon won’t be immune to criticism once the #MeToo moment has run its course.
Damon should start listening to the women around him, or at the very least, he can stop talking.
How do you like them apples?