Matt Damon has not been accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault. As far as the world knows, he has not done anything criminal. He’s just trying to promote his new movie, Downsizing. But the press cycle of the post-Harvey Weinstein reckoning has not been kind to him all the same.
It seems as though every time Damon gives an interview these days, he’s asked for his thoughts on Hollywood’s sexual violence problem. And he has repeatedly delivered remarkably tone-deaf answers, frequently suggesting that any form of sexual misconduct short of rape is really no big deal, and that many of the recently disgraced alleged sexual predators of Hollywood should be able to continue working. In other words, he seems to believe that the entertainment industry is just fine the way it is.
Damon’s position on the issue is not all that surprising, because the existing Hollywood system is the same system in which he has flourished. But his comments demonstrate how complacent those who are currently in power can be — and why the rest of us need to take what they say with a grain of salt.
Damon’s comments about Hollywood’s sexual assault reckoning are both incorrect and unnecessary
“I think it’s wonderful that women are feeling empowered to tell their stories, and it’s totally necessary,” Damon said on December 12, to ABC News’s Peter Travers. So far, so good!
But then he kept talking. “I do believe that there’s a spectrum of behavior, right? And we’re going to have to figure out what — you know, there’s a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt, and rape or child molestation, right? Both of those behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated, right?”
Damon went on to suggest that Al Franken shouldn’t have resigned from the Senate and that Louis C.K. probably wouldn’t “do those things again,” because of the high “price” that he’s already paid for his behavior. Damon added that he did not know about Weinstein’s behavior until the New York Times’s exposé, although he previously admitted, in October, that he had heard about what Weinstein did to Gwyneth Paltrow.
It’s an odd statement on Damon’s part, one that seems to suggest that anything short of rape is not a criminal or fireable offense, and also that once a sexual predator has been reprimanded or disciplined, he’s unlikely to do anything wrong ever again. (Sexual predators are statistically likely to be serial offenders.) He seems to be claiming that he himself is blameless and innocent, even while acknowledging that he has been willing to work with predatory men in the past and would again in the future.
“Good God, SERIOUSLY?” wrote Minnie Driver on Twitter.
“There are different stages of cancer,” said Alyssa Milano. “Some more treatable than others. But it’s still cancer.”
Vulture wrote up the whole interview under the headline “Matt Damon Is Sharing All His Bad Opinions on Sexual Misconduct.”
But Damon, undeterred, has continued to talk about sexual harassment.
“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 shitload 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," he told Business Insider on December 15.
"If I have to sign a sexual harassment thing, I don't care, I'll sign it," he added — though it’s not clear what Damon believes a sexual harassment thing is. "I would have signed it before. I don't do that, and most of the people I know don't do that."
He went on to opine that he would not necessarily be opposed to working with someone accused of sexual misconduct. “The question of if somebody had allegations against them, you know, it would be a case-by-case basis,” Damon replied. “You go, 'What's the story here?'"
Damon’s comments seem particularly distasteful and misguided given his past
Damon is in an especially precarious situation given the company he keeps. He and his frequent creative partner Ben Affleck built their careers under the guidance of Harvey Weinstein, who is now accused of decades of sexual harassment, assault, and rape. Affleck himself has been accused of groping multiple women, and his brother Casey Affleck — whom Damon personally cast in Manchester by the Sea and for whom he aggressively campaigned on the Oscar trail last year — has been sued twice for sexual harassment.
And to make matters worse, Damon has a history of tone-deafness when it comes to questions of how to reform the Hollywood system. In 2015, he told a black woman filmmaker — on camera, for the HBO reality show Project Greenlight — that she didn’t really understand diversity. He did.
Matt Damon speaking over the only black person in the room so he can explain diversity to her is SO WHITE it hurts pic.twitter.com/iaQStYZ0ij— Glen Coco (@MrPooni) September 14, 2015
During the segment, experienced producer and director Effie Brown posits that a black director can help filmmakers portray black characters with authenticity and grace. Damon responds by arguing that black directors are unnecessary, as long as you have black actors.
“When we’re talking about diversity,” he explains, “you do it in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show.” (Damon later apologized for his statement.)
In the context of Damon’s career, his comments make sense. He and his friends have thrived in the current Hollywood system, and that system specifically favors white men, regardless of whose stories those white men are telling or whether or not they are serial sexual predators.
So whenever someone suggests that perhaps there’s good reason to offer systemic power to someone else instead — to a director of color who can tell stories that white directors can’t, or to an actor or director who has not been accused of repeated sexual misconduct — Damon seems to panic. He insists that things are going just fine the way they are, thank you very much.
All of which is why it might be time to stop asking white male movie stars to share their thoughts on how to address questions of diversity and systemic reform in Hollywood. It might be time to ask them to start listening instead.