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Matt Damon defends Great Wall casting amid 'whitewashing' claims

Matt Damon criticised "outrageous" stories in the era of fake news as he responded to accusations that his role in the new China-Hollywood co-production The Great Wall should have gone to an Asian actor.

Some critics have said the 46-year-old's casting as the lead character amounted to "whitewashing" - where Caucasians are chosen for roles that should have gone to actors from other ethnicities.

In an interview with the Associated Press, the American star said he thinks of whitewashing as applying to Caucasian actors applying make-up to appear to be of another race, as was common in the early days of film and television, when racism was overt.

"That whole idea of whitewashing, I take that very seriously," Damon said, using the example of Irish-American actor Chuck Connors, who played the lead character in the 1962 film Geronimo, about the famed Apache chief.

Damon plays a British mercenary in the upcoming 150 million US dollars adventure fantasy film about a Chinese army battling monsters, helmed by acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou.

The star of the Bourne franchise and Interstellar questioned whether the critical stories on online news sites based on "a 30-second teaser trailer" would have existed before the era of fake news and headlines designed to make people click on them.

"It 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.

People fall for outrageous headlines, but "eventually you stop clicking on some of those more outrageous things because you just realise there is nothing to the story when you get to it", he added.

The Great Wall is the first movie made by Legendary East, the Chinese venture of Legendary Entertainment, a Hollywood studio now owned by Chinese property and cinema chain developer Wanda Group.

Other companies behind the film include the state-owned China Film Group Corp; Le Vision Pictures, a private film company affiliated with Chinese tech firm LeEco; and Hollywood's Universal Pictures.

The movie's trailer sparked criticism in the US that a white man had been chosen to play the lead, who saves the day, in a film set in China meant to showcase Chinese culture.

The furore came amid other accusations of a lack of diversity and opportunities for Asian actors in Hollywood.

Damon and Zhang told the AP that because of the demands of the story, Damon's role was always intended to be European.

Damon said he thought the controversy would subside "once people see that it's a monster movie and it's a historical fantasy and I didn't take a role away from a Chinese actor ... it wasn't altered because of me in any way".

The film is the first Sino-Hollywood co-production and first English-language film for Zhang, the director of the romantic Kung Fu drama House Of Flying Daggers and the opulent opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

It also stars Game Of Thrones star Pedro Pascal as Damon's sword-wielding partner in crime, Willem Dafoe and Hong Kong's Andy Lau. Jing Tian plays the female lead warrior. Also appearing are Eddie Peng of the boxing drama Unbeatable and Lu Han, a former boy band sensation.

Most Chinese co-productions with the West have been box-office flops, but producers hope The Great Wall can show that big-budget Sino-Hollywood co-productions can work.

Hollywood is eager to work with Chinese actors and producers to appeal to the Chinese cinema-going market, expected to outgrow the current No. 1 market, North America, within the next two or three years. The Chinese government has long sought to project cultural influence abroad and hopes that The Great Wall will be an international blockbuster.

The film debuts in Chinese cinemas on December 16 followed by other countries, including the United States in February.

AP

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