As you may have read from Allahpundit last night, film icon Matt Damon (himself an infamous liberal activist) got a taste of his own medicine recently and learned a lesson about actual equality when he suggested that jobs in the film industry should go to people who are actually good at those jobs. I’d like to expand on that a bit.
Most conservatives I know still dream of building an American culture where everyone exists in a true meritocracy, though that’s likely to remain a fantasy for most of our lifetimes. In an ideal, open society, everyone would rise or fall based on their own talents and ambition, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or any other demographic pigeonholes you might care to name. The students with the best grades would get into the best schools. The best qualified candidates would be hired for jobs and the top performers would earn the highest pay. And just possibly the most talented candidates would be elected to political office.
The reality of 21st century America, of course, is that no such system exists in most cases. And nowhere is that more evident than in the talk that is talked in Hollywood. (The walk that is walked is something completely different, of course.) Fabulously wealthy and beautiful people who live on television and movie screens lecture the hoi polloi endlessly about making sure that you fill the correct quotas for each demographic slice of the American pie, and when you fail to do so you are branded as clearly being a racist, sexist, homophobe or what have you.
And still, we somehow wound up with Damon bouncing back and forth across the line like this. (WaPo)
In an episode of the HBO series “Project Greenlight” — a reality show, created by one-time Hollywood Cinderellas Damon and pal Ben Affleck, in which newbies compete for a chance to make a $3 million movie — Damon held forth on diversity in the entertainment biz. He said, more or less, that it’s not always important.
“When we’re talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show,” Damon said. Translation: Diversity is needed among actors onscreen, but not among filmmakers behind the camera…
“It seems like you would undermine what the competition is supposed to be about, which is about giving somebody this job based entirely on merit,” he said.
You probably already saw some of the howls of outrage those comments produced. (His sin was apparently compounded by the fact that he was speaking to an African American director – and a woman to boot – at the time.) I was browsing some of the responses on social media today and here are a few more examples I found on Twitter under the hashtag #Damonsplaining.
— Sally Kohn (@sallykohn) September 16, 2015
— That Black YA Author (@tehawesomersace) September 14, 2015
Hi guys Matt Damon here. I'm at this local hospital to tell these women what to expect during their pregnancy.#Damonsplaining
— The GF Thief (@Unwan7ed) September 14, 2015
Of course, as we learned during the big Hollywood Hack Festival at Sony, the fat cats in the film capital of the world rarely practice what they preach. They pay women less then male actors, talk snarkily about them in internal memos and generally behave the same way that the actors accuse everyone else of acting. But Damon wasn’t even talking about roles on film. He was talking about technical jobs behind the scenes. Still… that was a bridge too far for his fans and now he’s paying the price.
The odd part is that the jobs on film would seem to lend themselves the most to a “failure to diversify.” Let’s face it… a lot of films are based on real life events and the industry generally makes at least some effort to have the actors project the image of the real life person when possible. How well would a film about Martin Luther King jr. go over if he were portrayed by Daniel Dae Kim? Could we cast a woman as Lincoln? Of course, when it’s a fictional story you can tailor the characters to fit your desired diversity profile, but if that’s the case, why are there still so few black actors in films and television even on completely fictional productions? And you get even fewer Hispanic players.
Going a bit beyond what AP discussed last night, we should point out the rank hypocrisy on display here and remind people that it’s found on two levels. Yes, the obvious case is the fact that the same people who are lecturing us don’t practice what they preach in terms of hiring, paying their workers or promoting their products. But that vast majority of white actors go right on collecting their mega-sized paychecks while appearing in all of these productions, don’t they? Surely they noticed the rather white dominated environment on the set while they were working. Where was the outrage then?
UPDATE: (Jazz) Matt Damon says he was totally misinterpreted.
“My comments were part of a much broader conversation about diversity in Hollywood and the fundamental nature of “Project Greenlight” which did not make the show. I am sorry that they offended some people, but, at the very least, I am happy that they started a conversation about diversity in Hollywood.”
Um… he does realize that it’s his show, right?