The Tao of Matt Damon: Hollywood’s Large Adult Son
Whether it’s mansplaining #MeToo, arguing that gay actors should stay in the closet, or lecturing a woman of color on diversity, the actor can’t stop sharing his bad takes.
It takes a special breed of idiot to take one look at the nuanced, multilayered, sky-high soufflé of sexual-misconduct allegations in the entertainment industry right now and say, hey, that’s a story I’d like be a part of. Unfortunately, for many men the siren call of sharing an uninformed opinion is just too seductive—hence the growing trend of A-list male actors grabbing a mic, firing up a tweet, digging a hole and then catapulting their bodies into it.
The best example of this right now is Matt Damon, who’s had the misfortune of having a major press tour line up with a hot-button issue that he clearly knows nothing about. Instead of educating himself more thoroughly, passing the mic to a female colleague, or just changing the subject, Damon has persisted with the confidence of a man who has never once doubted the validity of his opinions, aka the confidence of a man. In the words of The A.V. Club’s Katie Rife, Damon is “Busting through the wall of the current cultural moment like a Kool-Aid man of male entitlement.”
Just how reckless are Matt Damon’s hot takes? I’m glad you asked.
Last week, an interview that Damon did with ABC News went viral after it was correctly identified as a pile of steaming trash. There’s nothing quite like watching two men weigh in on a sexual-misconduct epidemic; one day, in the very near future, women will exclusively rage-exercise to workout playlists of Matt Damon holding forth on which Bad Men are actually worthy of rehabilitation. In addition to emphasizing the difference between “patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation,” the actor offered up individualized takes. While Louis “I don’t imagine he’s going to do those things again” C.K. and Al “I personally would have preferred if they had an Ethics Committee investigation” Franken were both put forth as candidates for forgiveness, Damon was less charitable toward Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein. Specifically, he reiterated that, “Nobody who made movies for [Weinstein] knew… Any human being would have put a stop to that, no matter who he was. They would’ve said absolutely no.”
Of course, the question of how much Good Will Hunting star Matt Damon knew about Weinstein, who shepherded the film, isn’t as clear-cut as he’d have you believe.
After the Weinstein story broke, former New York Times reporter Sharon Waxman claimed that she was working on a story in 2004 regarding sexual-misconduct allegations against the producer. According to Waxman, Weinstein enlisted Damon to call her in an attempt to change the narrative. Per Vulture, “Waxman alleges in The Wrap that Matt Damon and Russell Crowe called her ‘directly’ to dispel the reports she was following about Miramax’s Italian head Fabrizio Lombardo, who was allegedly hired ‘to take care of Weinstein’s women needs.’ She says that because of their influence, and interference from Weinstein, whose company was a big advertiser in the Times, the article was edited to remove the more salacious details.”
Damon, who had been conspicuously silent following the outing of his powerful pal, responded to Waxman’s recollections with a passionate self-defense. “For the record, I would never, ever, ever try to kill a story like that. I just wouldn’t do that. It’s not something I would do, for anybody,” Damon insisted, adding, “I did five or six movies with Harvey. I never saw this. I think a lot of actors have come out and said, everybody’s saying we all knew. That’s not true. This type of predation happens behind closed doors, and out of public view. If there was ever an event that I was at and Harvey was doing this kind of thing and I didn’t see it, then I am so deeply sorry, because I would have stopped it.” However, in a Good Morning America interview, Damon did cop to the fact that he knew about Weinstein’s harassing behavior.
“I knew the story about Gwyneth from Ben [Affleck] because he was with her after Brad [Pitt],” Damon told Michael Strahan in a joint interview with George Clooney. “I never talked to Gwyneth about it. Ben told me, but I knew that they had come to whatever, you know, agreement or understanding that they had come to, she had handled it. She was, you know, the first lady of Miramax. And he treated her incredibly respectfully always.” He added that, “This level of criminal sexual predation is not something that I ever thought was going on, absolutely not.”
Despite what Matt Damon has told himself, it seems that raising four daughters does not an ally make. Luckily for Damon, some of the women in his life are taking the time to try and educate him. Minnie Driver, who co-starred in Good Will Hunting and dated Damon for a short time afterward (before he famously dumped her on Oprah), had some words for the ignorant actor. After reacting passionately to Damon’s comments on Twitter, Driver told The Guardian that, “I felt I desperately needed to say something. I’ve realized that most men, good men, the men that I love, there is a cut-off in their ability to understand. They simply cannot understand what abuse is like on a daily level. I honestly think that until we get on the same page, you can’t tell a woman about their abuse. A man cannot do that. No one can. It is so individual and so personal, it’s galling when a powerful man steps up and starts dictating the terms, whether he intends it or not.”
Driver insisted that, “There is no hierarchy of abuse”—but that, even if there was, “It certainly can’t be prescribed by a man.” She continued, “How about: It’s all fucking wrong and it’s all bad, and until you start seeing it under one umbrella it’s not your job to compartmentalize or judge what is worse and what is not. Let women do the speaking up right now. The time right now is for men just to listen and not have an opinion about it for once.”
Most people would be left reeling after Minnie Driver verbally bitch-slapped them in The Guardian. But Matt Damon is not most people. Unfazed by a public trashing from his ex, Damon rose from the ashes of his decimated public image armed with even worse opinions. This week, Business Insider published an interview in which the actor proved himself to be the ultimate male ally—as in, an ally to other men. “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?” the actor put forth, adding, “I don’t do that, and most of the people I know don’t do that.”
Damon didn’t attend the premiere for his new film Downsizing in the wake of his viral comments. But the Massachusetts native is no stranger to backlash. In fact, there’s an entire category of #Damonsplaining—the act of Matt Damon lecturing others with ignorant, ill-informed opinions.
In 2015, Damon took to his passion project, HBO’s Project Greenlight, to talk down to a black producer. During the fourth season premiere of the show, Effie Brown, the only person of color in the group of deliberating producers, pointed out a potential issue with a black character in a film. Jezebel’s Kara Brown explained, “All she’s saying is that perhaps this roomful of white people should be cognizant of who they hire to direct a character like that—AKA hire some people of color so they can treat the role with some dignity and prevent it from descending into a racist trope.” She continued, “Luckily, Matt Damon is there to swoop in with this Smart White Man cape and interrupts Brown in order to explain diversity to her and this room full of white people. He argues that actually, the less-diverse directing teams brought up the same issue about the prostitute character that Effie is raising.”
Later on in the episode, Damon insisted, “I’m 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 to change. But ultimately, if you suddenly change the rules of this competition at the eleventh hour, it just seems like you would undermine what the competition was supposed to be about, which is about giving somebody this job based entirely on merit, and leaving all other factors out of it.” He continued, “It’s just strictly a filmmaking competition. I think the whole point of this thing is that you go for the best director, period. This is what we have and this is what we have to choose, and the only thing I can go by is the work that they’ve done.”
Damon ultimately apologized in part for the episode, saying in a statement, “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.”
Of course, as the producer of Project Greenlight, Damon ostensibly had control over what footage made it into the final cut. Clearly, he had no idea just how silly his argument was—and how painful it is to watch an overpaid white guy expound on the importance of “giving somebody this job based entirely on merit.” It’s almost as if Matt Damon has absolutely no cognizance of the racist, sexist systems that have allowed him to maintain a career that many female actors and actors of color can only dream of.
In addition to his race and gender blind spots, Damon has implied in the past that gay actors ought to stay in the closet. Also in 2015, he told The Guardian, “I think you’re a better actor the less people know about you period,” continuing, “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.”
Addressing old rumors that he and BFF Ben Affleck were an item, he elaborated, “It put us in a weird position of having to answer, you know what I mean? Which was then really deeply offensive. I don’t want to, like [imply] it’s some sort of disease—then it’s like I’m throwing my friends under the bus. But at the time, I remember thinking and saying, Rupert Everett was openly gay and this guy—more handsome than anybody, a classically trained actor—it’s tough to make the argument that he didn’t take a hit for being out.”
At the time, The Daily Beast’s Kevin Fallon pointed out that, “Damon is preaching about actors’ sexuality being none of the public’s business in the same interview in which he casually talks about his wife, kids, and fatherhood on several occasions,” in an article entitled “Shut Up, Matt Damon.”
Another subject that Matt Damon has struggled to shut up about is Casey Affleck.
Affleck, who has been accused of sexual harassment by two former colleagues, won an Academy Award last year thanks in good part to a campaign that was spearheaded by older bro Ben Affleck and family friend Matt Damon. In his capacity as a Manchester by the Sea producer, Damon praised its male lead in multiple interviews, calling Casey “one of the best actors I’ve ever met.” At The Cut, Allie Jones reasoned out why Affleck was able to continue on an upward career trajectory in spite of the 2010 harassment allegations. She wrote, “Luckiest for Affleck, he is the brother of a major movie star and the childhood friend of another… This brotherly posing makes prestige outlets hesitant to ask the younger Affleck tough questions, for fear of losing access to all three stars. His cruise to the Oscars continues undeterred because of his privileged position in Hollywood.”
While Damon has “Damonsplained” (and promoted an alleged abuser) in the past, his recent comments feel particularly offensive. Perhaps this is due not just to the opinions he’s sharing, but who Matt Damon is, and what he represents. Even without speaking out of turn, Damon is a walking, talking embodiment of male white privilege, and an example of the very status quo that so many of us are working to upend. He is Hollywood’s large adult son, and while it might be too soon to imagine a world in which men like Matt Damon aren’t the highest-grossing actors, we can, at the very least, shame the Matt Damons of the world out of opining on subjects their privilege has allowed them to remain largely ignorant of.