Chinese director Zhang Yimou attends the Le Vision Pictures USA launch event at Sofitel Hotel on November 9, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
Chris Weeks/Getty Images for Le Vision Pictures
By Megan McCluskey
August 4, 2016

Director Zhang Yimou has released a statement addressing the controversy surrounding his upcoming film The Great Wall. In the wake of Fresh of the Boat star Constance Wu’s criticism that Matt Damon’s casting in the lead role of the Chinese fantasy adventure film perpetuates “the racist myth that only a white man can save the world,” Yimou is speaking out to defend his work.

“In many ways The Great Wall is the opposite of what is being suggested,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “For the first time, a film deeply rooted in Chinese culture, with one of the largest Chinese casts ever assembled, is being made at tent pole scale for a world audience. Our film is not about the construction of the Great Wall. Matt Damon is not playing a role that was originally conceived for a Chinese actor. The arrival of his character in our story is an important plot point. There are five major heroes in our story and he is one of them — the other four are all Chinese.”

Yimou — who has previously helmed critically acclaimed epics such as House of Flying Daggers and Hero — went on to say that The Great Wall‘s casting fits with the story he wanted the movie, which is China’s most expensive movie to date, to convey. “As the director of over 20 Chinese language films and the Beijing Olympics, I have not and will not cast a film in a way that was untrue to my artistic vision,” he said. “I hope when everyone sees the film and is armed with the facts they will agree.”

The Great Wall is set to hit theaters Feb. 17, 2017.

Write to Megan McCluskey at megan.mccluskey@timeinc.com.

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