Matt Damon’s comments on diversity during Sunday’s “Project Greenlight” premiere sparked controversy online, after it appeared as if the actor was dismissing a colleague’s concerns about the need for diverse hiring practices.
In a statement obtained by Variety, Damon apologized for causing offense, but noted that he was glad that the episode and his debate with fellow “Project Greenlight” producer Effie Brown could promote discussion about diversity in the industry.
Read Damon’s statement below:
“I believe deeply that there need to be more diverse filmmakers making movies. I love making movies. It’s what I have chosen to do with my life and I want every young person watching ‘Project Greenlight’ to believe that filmmaking is a viable form of creative expression for them too.
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. 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.”
In the season four premiere of “Project Greenlight,” Brown and Damon were among a number of producers who were attempting to decide which finalist would win the contest and go on to helm the chosen script for the season.
In a talking head segment, Brown (the only person of color in the group) admitted, “Diversity is very important to me; the films that I typically do are films about someone who’s outside of mainstream, and most times that’s women and people that are marginalized. A lot of times, growing up in the ’70s, there weren’t a lot of positive images of women and people of color, and that’s what I noticed growing up… we were gangsters, prostitutes, drug addicts, things of that nature. This is an opportunity where I can change that.”
While debating which finalist should be chosen to direct the film, Brown stumped for directing team Leo Angelos & Kristen Brancaccio (an Asian man and white woman), in part because Brancaccio flagged the stereotypical aspects of the only black character in the script, Harmony.
“I 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. You’re looking at this group right here, and who you’re picking, and the story that you’re doing, and I just want to make sure we’re doing our best-” Brown began, before Damon interjected.
“The only team that’s left with diversity is the team that announced that they liked this script the most as it is, and that’s Leo and Kristen,” Damon pointed out. “Everyone else had major problems with it, with exactly the things that you’re bringing up, and exactly the things that we brought up to each other. I think on the surface, they might look like one thing, but they might end up giving us something that we don’t want. And when we’re talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show.”
Brown seemed visibly taken aback by Damon’s assessment, and responded, “Wow, okay.”
“Do you want the best director?” Damon asked.
“I’m not mad, but hang on… with love in my heart, even Leo and Kristen talked about… he said it was good having her because she has a different perspective that he wouldn’t even have thought about when talking about women — they did talk about it,” Brown noted, pointing out that the duo might approach the script with a different perspective from many of the other male directors in the contest.
Fellow executive producer (and the only other woman in the room) Jennifer Todd, who serves as president of Damon and Ben Affleck’s Pearl Street Films production company, admitted that the real problem was with the script itself, not whoever they hired to direct. “I have a problem with Harmony… everyone does, and I don’t look to just [the director] to fix that, I think we also have work to do, and they will do too.”
In a later talking head segment, Damon noted, “I’m glad Effie flagged the issue of diversity for all of us, because filmmaking should throw a broader net and it’s high time for that to change. But ultimately, if you suddenly change the rules of this competition at the eleventh hour, it just seems like you would undermine what the competition was supposed to be about, which is about giving somebody this job based entirely on merit, and leaving all other factors out of it. It’s just strictly a filmmaking competition. I think the whole point of this thing is that you go for the best director, period. This is what we have and this is what we have to choose, and the only thing I can go by is the work that they’ve done.”
Finalist Jason Mann was ultimately chosen as the winner of the contest.
Watch an edited portion of Damon and Brown’s conversation below.