Matt Damon is confusing. He might have built his personal reputation around being a down-to-earth everyman who uses his celebrity status to help out people less fortunate than himself, but in recent years, he’s more closely resembled an over-privileged smug dude with an empathy problem.
Damon’s confounding behavior has been present since the start of his career. Remember how heart-warming it was when he and Ben Affleck won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay for Good Will Hunting, while their mothers watched from the audience? The BFFs were adorable that night, and the world wished them well. About five minutes later though, Damon appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and promptly dumped his co-star and girlfriend of over a year, Minnie Driver, on the air. Driver, in an extraordinarily restrained move, called the incident “fantastically inappropriate.”
The cruel incident was the first indication the world got that Matt Damon might be a giant douchelord, but everyone kind of forgot about it, thanks to his outspoken liberalism, charity work (Water.org is a cause particularly close to his heart), and undeniable penchant for comedy:
In recent years though, it’s the insensitive nonsense that pops out of his mouth that’s overshadowing the good stuff. There was the September 2015 interview with The Guardian, in which Damon suggested that gay actors should keep their sexuality quiet, lest they lose roles. “I think you’re a better actor the less people know about you, period,” he said. “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.”
The quote was positioned almost directly beneath a photo of Damon and his wife on the red carpet, captioned “Family man: with his wife, Luciana, whom he met while filming in Miami in 2003.” The message was clear: Matt Damon feels just fine about taking his heterosexual relationship to red carpets all over the world (no mystery required!), but gay people shouldn’t do the same thing in case they lose roles. Damon made this statement two years after playing a gay man himself in Behind the Candelabra, despite his many years committed to being an open heterosexual. The hypocrisy was jaw-dropping.
Later, appearing on Ellen and attempting to clarify his Guardian statements, Damon managed to make things worse. He told DeGeneres that, post-Good Will Hunting, people had asked if he and Ben Affleck were gay. He stated: “I’m not going to throw my friends under the bus who are gay, and act like it’s some kind of disease.” In what way is confirming your sexuality the same as treating homosexuality as an illness? And why does Damon only care about his gay friends, rather than the wider LGBTQ community?
The problem with Damon is that, one minute he is outspoken in ways that are totally right on (when Ben Carson said that the Presidential office was no place for a Muslim, Damon publicly called the statement “horrible,” “offensive,” and “wrong”), the next he is seemingly incapable of recognizing his own privilege.
The very same month as that disastrous Guardian interview, during an episode of Project Greenlight, Damon talked over and interrupted successful producer, Effie Brown, to tell her that diversity isn’t needed behind the camera, as long as people of color show up on screen. He did so in the middle of Brown suggesting that racial and gender-based insensitivity onscreen can occur when there are only white men in charge of production. Because: OBVIOUSLY.
Prepare to cringe:
After social media blew up in response, Damon apologized (“I believe deeply that there need to be more diverse filmmakers making movies”), but proved to have missed the point almost entirely when, a year later, he starred in The Great Wall — a movie set in China that still, somehow, managed to have white people dominating the story. Constance Wu, of Fresh Off the Boat, said on Twitter: “We have to stop perpetuating the racist myth that [only a] white man can save the world.” David Sims accurately noted in The Atlantic that the movie put “a white American actor at the center of another culture’s story.”
Damon defended his role with yet another tone-deaf apology, by saying: “I didn’t take a role away from a Chinese actor… it wasn’t altered because of me in any way… Although it was developed for commercial purposes, I felt there was room for me to play and put many elements of Chinese culture into it.” Hard not to roll your eyes at that last part.
Also in 2015, Damon displayed some insidious misogyny when he blamed Jennifer Lopez for Ben Affleck’s image problem during their much-publicized 2002-2004 relationship. “It was like he was being cast in a role, that he was a talentless kind of meathead, with his whole relationship with Jennifer Lopez,” Damon told the Hollywood Reporter. “He just got cast as this person that he wasn’t… It was painful to be his friend, because it wasn’t fair, you know?”
It’s extremely difficult to side with Damon’s version of events, given the fact that Affleck’s on-camera behavior during that period including sexually assaulting an MTV host while TV cameras rolled, and repeatedly talking about the breasts of a Canadian TV host, also while on the air. During that last interview, Affleck also impersonated someone with Cerebral Palsy and used the word “retarded.” Affleck’s behavior was clearly odious, without any input from J-Lo whatsoever. It seems like it’s easier for Damon to blame a woman than it is to question his best friend’s conduct.
The most recent Damon-related screw up concerns ex-New York Times journalist, Sharon Waxman, who made claims that a 2004 article she worked on to expose Harvey Weinstein’s alleged penchant for sexual harassment and assault was buried after Russell Crowe and Matt Damon called the newspaper to defend their producer pal.
Damon strongly denied Waxman’s claims, telling Deadline: “My recollection was that it was about a one minute phone call. Harvey had called me and said, they’re writing a story about Fabrizio [Lombardo, of Miramax]… and it’s really negative. Can you just call and tell her what your experience with Fabrizio was. So I did, and that’s what I said to her.”
Damon also offered his thoughts on the allegations against Weinstein, saying: “Everybody’s saying we all knew. That’s not true. This type of predation happens behind closed doors, and out of public view.”
Then: “Even before I was famous, I didn’t abide this kind of behavior. But now, as the father of four daughters, this is the kind of sexual predation that keeps me up at night.” Because, apparently, it is impossible to understand the true horror of sexual assault until you’ve co-created some female children.
The more questionable elements of Matt Damon’s worldview just keep emerging. Even when he’s trying to apologize, the actor frequently just digs himself deeper into a hole. As it stands in 2017, no matter how much we once loved him, it feels an awful lot like he is the epitome of the liberal nice guy who still has a hard time understanding the viewpoints of anyone who isn’t white, male, and heterosexual — and it’s simply too hard to ignore anymore.