Matt Damon is not winding down for Christmas. Not just yet, at least. Instead, the star has a film to promote: Downsizing, a comedy in which Damon and his on-screen wife Kristen Wiig decide to escape the pressures of daily life by shrinking to five inches tall and join a new "downsized community".
Given the subject of the film, however, it is ironic that Damon has made himself so conspicuous on the promotional trail, using this time to share inflammatory comments about the sexual harassment scandal currently raging through Hollywood.
"There's a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation , right?" he said in an interview with ABC. "Both of those behaviours need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn't be conflated, right?”
Despite admitted that he "didn’t know the details" of the CK case – in which the comedian coerced five women into watching or listening to him masturbate – but said that “I imagine the price that he's paid at this point is so beyond anything that he – I just think that we have to kind of start delineating between what these behaviours are.”
He was been openly criticised by his former co-star and ex-girlfriend Minnie Driver, as well as fellow actresses Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan for this "tone deaf" comments about assault.
Damon may have wanted to stop there, but days later, he followed these up by saying not enough was being said about the men who didn't assault women, and maintained that the "preponderance of men I've worked with" hadn't done such a thing – in spite of the extent of assault in Hollywood being exposed by the #MeToo movement.
"We’re in this watershed moment, and it’s great, but I think one thing that’s not being talked about is there are a whole s——- of guys – the preponderance of men I’ve worked with – who don’t do this kind of thing and whose lives aren’t going to be affected."
Such proclamations have caused some people to worry after Damon's well-being. But really, the actor has been making such myopic comments, ranging from the awkward to the offensive, ever since he came to fame in the late Nineties. Here's a brief recap:
1998: When he said he was single on Oprah
Damon was the toast of Hollywood in 1998. The Best Actor Oscar nominee had just picked up the Academy Award for Best Screenplay with his childhood friend Ben Affleck for Good Will Hunting, and was one-half of the industry's most endearing new couple. That was, however, until he dumped his girlfriend of a year, Minnie Driver, on Oprah. When the veteran broadcaster asked Damon if he was in a relationship, he said he was single – which was news to Driver.
Damon never spoke of the incident again. But Driver gave an interview to the Los Angeles Times shortly afterwards, in which she discussed the matter in the best possible way: "It’s unfortunate that Matt went on Oprah; it seemed like a good forum for him to announce to the world that we were no longer together, which I found fantastically inappropriate. Of course, he was busy declaring his love for me on David Letterman a month previously".
2015: When he talked over a black woman about diversity
Project Greenlight is a reality TV show about film making that is produced by Affleck and Damon, among others. By 2015, it was in its fourth season and had been on air for more than a decade, during which it had already met with criticism for selecting three white male winners in succession.
Producers and researchers behind the new season had, it transpired, been actively trying to improve the show’s diversity. Despite such efforts, however, Damon and Affleck still ended up choosing from 20 finalists – 17 of which were white men.
Effie T Brown, a TV and film producer, was among those defining the winning project on Project Greenlight in season four, and in one episode raised the issue of diversity, and the potential problems of the film’s only black character being a prostitute and a victim of domestic abuse.
When she suggested that diversity in filmmaking needs to be addressed both off and on-screen, she was swiftly interrupted and spoken over by Damon. The visible shock and disappointment that Brown displays in the clip above was matched by the widespread anger among the international audience watching on. #Damonsplaining trended online as people shared their outrage.
Damon released a statement that said: "I am sorry that [my comments] offended some people, but at the very least, I am happy that they started a conversation about diversity in Hollywood." Many argued that it was a mealy mouthed apology that merely said sorry for the offence caused, rather than Damon’s actions.
The actor also tried to excuse his words by giving interviews to The Hollywood Reporter and The New Yorks Times that set his comments in a wider context: "Ben [Affleck] and I had taken a lot of stick for this 10 years ago, that our committee of mostly white men had selected three white men, in succession, as winners," he said. “This time, the producers actively pursued a more diverse cross-section of applicants, partnering with Facebook and actively recruiting at film schools."
Speaking a few weeks later, Brown said that Damon was yet to apologise to her personally: "I haven't heard a goddamned thing." She added that she "totally disagreed with what was said" but felt she couldn't "go head on against the biggest movie star in the world. I want to work again".
2015: When he told actors not to discuss their sexuality
Damon frequently talks about his wife and children while promoting films, and happily presents himself as a married family man. However, he caused widespread offence when he suggested that LGBT actors shouldn't go down the same route. He told The Observer : "I think you're a better actor the less people know about you period. And sexuality is a huge part of that. Whether you're straight or gay, people shouldn't know anything about your sexuality because that's one of the mysteries that you should be able to play."
Damon then appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the host of which is one of the most prominent gay women on television, and defended his comments, saying: "I was just trying to say actors are more effective when they're a mystery. Right? And somebody picked it up and said I said gay actors should get back in the closet. Which is like I mean it's stupid, but it is painful when things get said that you don't believe."
His lack of apology did little to quieten those Damon had upset, and sparked another flurry of outraged opinion pieces.
2016: When he blamed the public for The Great Wall's whitewashing controversy
Damon had been tied to The Great Wall, a heaving magical fantasy blockbuster with an $150 million budget, for several years. However, in the run up to the trailer’s release in the summer of 2016, the public and media had become more acutely aware of Hollywood’s whitewashing problem – or casting white actors in roles that were originally meant for BAME people – after Ghost in the Shell, Cloud Atlas and Aloha all fell foul of the same situation.
The Great Wall is set in 10th-century China, but Damon had been cast in the lead role. Criticisms of whitewashing dogged the film, while comment pieces suggested Damon's casting would perpetrate the "white saviour" trope.
It took Damon a while to comment but he did a few months later, and blamed the furore not on the fact he had taken the lead role in a Chinese film, but on the media: "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 … 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 that his part was always meant to be for a white man: "The whole idea of whitewashing, I take that very seriously… 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 Great Wall went on to be a spectacular flop, as pointed out in several jokes during the Oscars ("He made a Chinese ponytail movie. And that movie, The Great Wall, went on to lose $80 million. Smooth move").
2017: When he used his fatherhood to denounce Harvey Weinstein
Even before Damon’s more recent comments, he had caused offence when the allegations against Harvey Weinstein first emerged, in October 2017. Damon, who worked with Weinstein when the producer’s company, Miramax, released Good Will Hunting, was accused of halting a story about the producer by a female journalist.
Damon responded to Sharon Waxman’s claim that he was among the Hollywood elite who called her to vouch for Fabrizio Lombardo, a man who reportedly procured women for Weinstein. He told Deadline that he had a "a one minute phone call" with Waxman, in which he explained that he had dined at Lombardo’s house. Damon also told Deadline that "I still don't know anything about that and Fabrizio. My experience with him was all above board and that's what I told her."
Rather, the problem lay with Damon using his fatherhood as justification of his vehemence against assault:
Look, even before I was famous, I didn't abide this kind of behaviour. But now, as the father of four daughters, this is the kind of sexual predation that keeps me up at night. This is the great fear for all of us. You have a daughter, you know…
He continued: “We have to be vigilant and we have to help protect and call this stuff out because we have our sisters and our daughters and our mothers.”
Damon was swiftly criticised on Twitter and in media coverage for the statement.
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