One of Hollywood’s favorite white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied men by the name of Matt Damon announced that he would no longer use the term “faggot” because one of his daughters told him it was slur that shouldn’t be used.
Yup, that happened.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Damon, who is schlepping his Cannes movie Stillwater on a press extravaganza to ensure that it will be a success, told the publication that he just recently stopped using the homophobic slur because he’s learned about “changes in modern masculinity.”
“The word that my daughter calls the ‘f-slur for a homosexual’ was commonly used when I was a kid, with a different application,” said Damon. He continued to say that he made a joke months ago and then received “a very long, beautiful treatise on how that word is dangerous.”
He then said, “‘I retire the f-slur!’ I understood.”
So I guess the response to all of this is: “Congratulations for not being a horrible human being?”
While his peers will congratulate him on being so brave for no longer using the word “faggot”, people with actual empathy, home training and a modicum of sense will understand why his apology doesn’t mean anything. Also, there’s a lot of red flags in his interview with The Sunday Times which leads us to believe that he had been using the slur “faggot” until recently. He also thought it was fine to use the term in different context and in jokes. The homophobic slur was used in the movie Stuck on You which was directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly so the fact that he uses that as an argument is, well, garbage. And let’s not forget that Peter Farrelly directed Green Book and we all know how that turned out.
That said, Damon’s monumental, self congratulatory white man circle jerk of a realization that the term “faggot” in 2021 — after all the LGBTQIA community has been through in the past decade and beyond — is bad. This is not a good look for him or his new movie Stillwater (btw: Amanda Knox, whose real life case inspired the Tom McCarthy-directed film, does not really care for Stillwater or them using her story).
The problem with Damon’s track record of trash started in 2015 with the conversation he had with producer Effie Brown on the series Project Greenlight. As many of you know Project Greenlight was a reality show where first-time filmmakers compete for the opportunity to get their films to be made. HBO Max is set to revive the reality series with Issa Rae in charge so we know it won’t be tone deaf like it was when Damon was in charge.
Let me explain.
Brown appeared during an episode of Project Greenlight and had a conversation with Damon and the judges about hiring a diverse directing team on one of the projects because the sole Black person in the cast was a prostitute who gets hit by a white pimp. This was long before Hollywood put any actual weight on diversity and inclusion so Brown was fighting the fight before the film & TV industry recognized their was a problem.
In any case, Damon responded to Brown’s request for a diverse directing team with white mansplanation energy: “When we’re talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show.”
Let’s check the playback and Brown’s reaction is pretty much says it all.
After this conversation and Project Greenlight Damon went on as normal with his career because, well, Hollywood loves him. Let me rephrase that: Hollywood loves their white men. The years following this conversation, he went on to star in the Oscar-nominated The Martian, reprise his role in Jason Bourne and starred in Downsizing. He also appeared in Thor: Ragnarok, Deadpool 2, starred in the Oscar-winning Ford v. Ferrari. He guested on Saturday Night Live as Brett Kavanaugh, produced Manchester by the Sea which won the problematic Casey Affleck an Oscar. He also can be seen in the upcoming The Last Duel and in Steven Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move on HBO Max. Also, let’s not forget his ethnic turn in The Great Wall which was not a huge joke amongst the Asian community.
As for Brown, she didn’t find a flourishing career after Project Greenlight because, well, Hollywood likes to protect their white men and disregard those who speak truth to power. More specifically, Hollywood loves to push aside Black women. In a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter written in 2020, Brown opened up about what she experienced after the Project Greenlight conversation with Damon.
“After I did Project Greenlight, I suffered a huge backlash,” Brown wrote. “I didn’t work for a while. People didn’t want to work with me because I spoke truth to power. People who speak up are usually marginalized and pushed back, called difficult, confrontational, you name it. I spoke up and got summarily smacked back down. I did not get embraced with open arms, nor did it work in my favor… at first.” Brown also admitted she only got paid to make the movie and was never paid to do the series. “That’s exploitative,” she said bluntly.
After the reality competition, she did have people in her corner. Lee Daniels called her to check in and used his power to get her a job at his company — but even then, he had to get to fight to get her hired. “That’s what often needs to happen, you need someone with power and the courage of their convictions to help,” wrote Brown. “That’s what Lee did and so did my allies and Black Twitter — they had my back 1,000 percent.”
It took Brown five years to shake off this conversation and the stigma attached to it. She is now the CEO and co-owner of Gamechanger Films, a company that helps give access to people of color, women, those with disabilities, the LGBTQIA community, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian artists and other historically underrepresented groups. She is also the chair of the Inclusion Advisory committee for the new Academy Museum.
It’s great that Brown found success — but it took her five years while Damon knew that his diversity conversation would not impact his career in any way. Sure, he “apologized” and there was a mark on his record, but it doesn’t really matter. Damon continued to be successful and even after this homophobic slur, he’ll be fine because he’s a white man that Hollywood loves. It is in line with protecting the dominant culture in Hollywood.
Bottom line: problematic people in Hollywood will thrive no matter their race, sexuality, gender, or otherwise. We have seen that with people like Chris Brown, Nick Cannon, J.K. Rowling, Kevin Hart, Nate Parker, DaBaby, Ellen DeGeneres and others. They all have their checkered history of bad behavior that has been thoroughly covered in media. Their behavior ranges from complacent to horrific to profoundly ignorant to absolutely unforgivable yet we still will allow them to work. However, the ratio of white men to non-white people who do horrible things yet are still given infinite passes is wildly unbalanced. The rules are different for white men — and they know it.
Considering it was James Baldwin’s birthday this week, it is appropriate to share this quote from the icon: “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hate so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”
Hate could come in the form of many things. It doesn’t have to be blatant. Based on my experience, someone can be nice, seem understanding and progressive, but they can be racist and homophobic as all hell which can arguably make it even worse and more harmful.
Since his interview with The Sunday Times, Damon provided a statement to media in reaction to the “f-slur” issue that said:
“During a recent interview, I recalled a discussion I had with my daughter where I attempted to contextualize for her the progress that has been made – though by no means completed – since I was growing up in Boston and, as a child, heard the word ‘f*g’ used on the street before I knew what it even referred to. I explained that that word was used constantly and casually and was even a line of dialogue in a movie of mine as recently as 2003; she in turn expressed incredulity that there could ever have been a time where that word was used unthinkingly. To my admiration and pride, she was extremely articulate about the extent to which that word would have been painful to someone in the LGBTQ+ community regardless of how culturally normalized it was. I not only agreed with her but thrilled at her passion, values and desire for social justice.”
“I have never called anyone ‘f****t’ in my personal life and this conversation with my daughter was not a personal awakening. I do not use slurs of any kind. I have learned that eradicating prejudice requires active movement toward justice rather than finding passive comfort in imagining myself ‘one of the good guys.’ And given that open hostility against the LGBTQ+ community is still not uncommon, I understand why my statement led many to assume the worst. To be as clear as I can be, I stand with the LGBTQ+ community.”
Ok, great. I don’t buy it, but great. Even in his interview he admitted he said the f-slur in a joke so his apology doesn’t match up with the source material. Also, one appearance on Will & Grace and a role in Behind the Candelabra which should have went to a LGBTQIA+ actor does not an advocate make. Still, he’s forcing us to be fine with his apology.
Words mean things and it’s clear he hasn’t taken in consideration with his “faggot” discourse or even back in 2015 when he was educating the masses with his oh-so-poignant diversity insight. It’s amazing how it takes a homophobic or racial slur to force a nicely crafted PR apology that shows support for a historically marginalized community.
All of this will blow over and Damon will continue to have a thriving career. He will probably get awards love for his Amanda Knox-appropriating movie. It’s cyclical. He is in a club of white men in Hollywood who do and say what they want, when they want and no matter what, the industry will continue to forgive them, foster them, and give them the room to allow their toxic behavior and white privilege shine through. Ignorance, lack of empathy, lack of home training and lack of accountability is alive and well. It’s on brand for Hollywood. Just as long as there’s a half-baked apology, it’s good enough. In fact, it feels like all this toxic behavior strengthens their career and gives them more power. Let’s be honest: it’s a flex, as the kids say. They might as well say, “I can say the N-word, the F-word, treat women like shit, spread toxicity on a movie set, be anti-semitic, beat up an Asian man until he’s blind — and they’ll still be worshipped for their “groundbreaking” and “insightful” Oscar-worthy work in cinema.
Quentin Tarantino is a prime example. He has been heavily criticized for the use of the N-word in his movies. This discussion came about when Django Unchained came out in 2012. Even before that, Spike Lee took issue with his use of the term in his 1997 film Jackie Brown, an homage to Blaxploitation films. All his films are an homage to genres — so much to the point that it borders on the line of appropriation. That’s a whole other conversation.
Most recently, Tarantino was interviewed on The Joe Rogan Experience where he addressed the criticism of how Bruce Lee was portrayed in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. He framed Lee as cocky and went on to say that the Hollywood martial arts legend was disrespectful to stuntmen and essentially talked shit about Lee, who he claims he still admires.
Tarantino admitted that he understood why Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee would have a problem with how he wrote his father, but everyone else can “go suck a dick”.
Once again, she had to come to the defense of her father. She has talked about Once Upon a Time In Hollywood and how she was never included in the conversation about the portrayal of her father during the production. In a recent guest column she wrote for The Hollywood Reporter she took off the gloves and did not mince words.
“As you already know, the portrayal of Bruce Lee in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood by Mr. Tarantino, in my opinion, was inaccurate and unnecessary to say the least. (Please let’s not blame actor Mike Moh. He did what he could with what he was given),” she wrote. “And while I am grateful that Mr. Tarantino has so generously acknowledged to Joe Rogan that I may have my feelings about his portrayal of my father, I am also grateful for the opportunity to express this: I’m really fucking tired of white men in Hollywood trying to tell me who Bruce Lee was.”
“They have no idea and cannot fathom what it might have taken to get work in 1960s and ’70s Hollywood as a Chinese man with (God forbid) an accent, or to try to express an opinion on a set as a perceived foreigner and person of color,” Lee continued in the guest column.
Even before that, Lee talked to Variety about Tarantino’s portrayal of her father in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, saying ““He could shut up about it.” She continued, “That would be really nice. Or he could apologize or he could say, ‘I don’t really know what Bruce Lee was like. I just wrote it for my movie. But that shouldn’t be taken as how he really was.’”
Apparently, Tarantino still hasn’t taken the hint and continues to double down for the sake of the novelization of Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, which people will buy because they just can’t help themselves. Like Damon, this will blow over for Tarantino and he’ll make another film and/or TV series that Hollywood will get on their knees for.
Mel Gibson was disgraced for his anti-semitic comments in 2006, but for some reason it feels that he just received a slap on the hand and he continues to work. In fact, that one incident in 2006 wasn’t the only time he made horrible comments. There seems to be a whole history of his anti-semitic comments including the time he allegedly called Winona Ryder an “oven dodger”.
Then there is Mark Wahlberg who assaulted two Vietnamese men in 1988. He called Thanh Lam, a “Vietnam f***ing s***” and knocked him unconscious and punched army vet Johnny Trinh. He was asked to be pardoned from this attacks in 2014, saying that he has since dedicated himself “to becoming a better person and citizen” so that he can be a role model to his children and others. In 2016, he dropped the request for the pardon. Like Gibson, Wahlberg has an history of alleged racially motivated attacks from when he was a teenager. Yes, it was nearly 30 years ago, but it certainly doesn’t make it right. What exactly has he done to reconcile and hold himself accountable for these racist attacks? Either way, his career remains in tact and his history has little to no impact.
The #MeToo movement brought about a “purge” of toxic men in the industry including Louis CK and Kevin Spacey. Louis CK released a new comedy special three years after his alleged sexual harassment allegations while Spacey is set to return to the big screen with the film L’umo Che Disegno Dio (The Man Who Drew God). Then there is director David O. Russell who still remains a celebrated filmmaker despite his alleged abusive behavior.
The list is long, but what can we do? The answer is…nothing, really. This kind of behavior has been and continues to be passed down from one toxic white man to another. If anything, it’s not up to us. It’s up to Hollywood decision makers and gatekeepers to break this cycle. They open the gates to these men. They give them an allowance. The rules do not apply to them. They continue to foster this behavior and allow it to spread like a patriarchal virus that upholds the tradition of celebrating people whose “talent” is more important than treating people with common decency. It’s cut from the same cloth that made a megalomaniac the 45th President of the United States. In case you didn’t notice, we are still in a global pandemic and still dealing with a racial reckoning as well as the ramifications of an insurrection that 45 gave us.
We have learned that “cancel culture” really isn’t a thing because if that were the case, the aforementioned men wouldn’t be in the conversation anymore. Maybe the thing that these men need to do is hold themselves accountable. Not with a request for a pardon or a finely crafted sorry-not-sorry PR statement, but with action. Donate buckets of money to organizations that these words affected. These men need to do face-to-face apologies and confront the communities they harmed with their words and actually talk to them. They need to hold themselves accountable and blatantly admit their mistakes and flog themselves in public. Okay, maybe not the final part, but they do need to hold themselves accountable. Still, it doesn’t erase their past so maybe it is best they step away and find a new trade… and even after that, they need to do more.
Maybe the biggest solution for white men is not to say anything ignorant at all. They should thoughtfully watch their words. That way, we wouldn’t be in this situation at all. Marginalized people have been measuring their words under the watchful eyes of white men for centuries. It’s now the white man’s turn.