Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's filmmaking competition Project Greenlight made its big return to TV after a decade off the air on Sunday. Now, people are talking. Not for the reasons Damon and Affleck would want, though. Matt Damon is making headlines for comments he made about diversity behind the scenes in Hollywood while discussing a project with the producers that were choosing who would direct the season's project, a comedy called Not Another Pretty Woman. Producer Effie Brown, who is Black, wanted the directing team of Kristen Brancaccio, who is white, and Leo Angelos, who is Asian. According to Variety, Brown chose Brancaccio and Angelos, "because Brancaccio flagged the stereotypical aspects of the only black character in the script." "I want to urge people to think about, whoever this director is, the way that they’re going to treat the character of Harmony, her being a prostitute — the only black person being a hooker who gets hit by her white pimp. You’re looking at this group right here, and who you’re picking, and the story that you’re doing, and I just want to make sure we’re doing our best," Brown said. Damon jumped in, employing what the internet is now calling "Damonsplaning" and "whitesplaining." He said that while Brancaccio and Angelos were the only diverse directing team left, the way you get diversity in Hollywood is "in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show" [meaning the creative team that's behind the scenes].
He spoke more about the diversity issue later on in a talking head segment, saying he was "glad Effie flagged the issue of diversity for all of us, because filmmaking should throw a broader net, and it's high time for that change." Damon argued that they couldn't change the rules of Project Greenlight at the last minute; that the contest "is about giving somebody this job based entirely on merit." (Salon and other outlets were quick to rebut Damon's meritocracy argument as one that hides behind white privilege and limited opportunities for women and people of color.) After the internet uproar reached a fever pitch, Damon issued a statement via his publicist. "I believe deeply that there need to be more diverse filmmakers making movies. I love making movies. It’s what I have chosen to do with my life and I want every young person watching “Project Greenlight” to believe that filmmaking is a viable form of creative expression for them too." "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. That is an ongoing conversation that we all should be having." As Jezebel points out, Damon is a producer of Project Greenlight, so he most likely had final cut on the episode. He could have opted not to include his exchange with Brown. Let's hope he kept it in to, as he said, start the long overdue conversation.