Twitter Reacts to Matt Damon ‘Splaining Diversity to Black Filmmaker

Some of you may be familiar with the term mansplaining and its equally exasperating cousin, whitesplaining. But actor Matt Damon inadvertently created a whole new word last week on his HBO show, Project Greenlight, that the creative minds of Twitter have coined “Damonsplaining.”

What’s Damonsplaining, one might ask? It’s when a Black woman filmmaker is talking about how we need a more diverse group of people making movies and then you, as a white male actor, decide to interrupt her to “better explain” the issue. Said filmmaker then gives a deadpan expression that is all too familiar to anyone who has ever been the only nonwhite person in the room.

On the season four premiere of Project Greenlight—a Matt Damon and Ben Affleck-helmed show where up-and-coming filmmakers are given the chance to direct a movie—the mostly white finalists are introduced to Effie Brown, the esteemed Hollywood producer behind such critically acclaimed films as Dear White People.

She explains how important it is to steer away from stereotypical representations of marginalized groups, pointing out that the only Black person in the finalists’ movie is a prostitute who is assaulted by her white pimp. Brown then suggests that having more people of color in decision-making roles can prevent that type of problematic casting.

But Damon swoops in and says that as long as you are diverse in the casting of the movie, you shouldn’t worry about hiring diverse filmmakers. Brown blinks incredulously at Damon before saying, “Wow, OK.”

It was absolutely cringe-worthy to watch. His remark becomes even more tone-deaf when one considers the diversity stats of those behind the camera, which are pretty damning. According to a recent report from USC Annenberg’s Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative looking at the 700 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2014:

  • Only 45 of the directors were Black.
  • Only 28 were women.
  • Only three were Black women.

Damon and Hollywood heavyweights of the same ilk seem to be painfully unaware of this problem and the implications it holds for nonwhite actors and directors. Perhaps he should watch Dear White People now that it’s on Netflix. He might realize it’s about him.

Damon has since apologized for his comments in a statement, saying:

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.

The upside of the incident is the birth of the #Damonsplaining hashtag that shows how privileged groups can sometimes lecture marginalized groups about their own experiences.


Associate editor of Ms. magazine