‘I should have just kept my mouth shut and listened more,’ Damon tells Moneyish.
Matt Damon’s latest role is being a better listener.
The 47-year-old actor, producer and screenwriter who faced backlash for his remarks about the #MeToo movement last year told Moneyish he is trying to think before he acts, and do his part to promote diversity and gender equity in Hollywood.
“I should have just kept my mouth shut and listened more,” Damon told Moneyish at an event in Manhattan on Thursday.
The “Downsizing” star is backpedaling from an ABC interview where he said that the allegations of sexual misconduct surrounding the likes of Harvey Weinstein, comic Louis C.K. and former U.S. Senator Al Franken needed to be analyzed on a “spectrum of behavior,” and that people should focus on men who have not been accused of sexual misconduct. The commentary was met with outrage from fellow actors, including his “Good Will Hunting” co-star Minnie Driver, Alyssa Milano and Evan Rachel Wood.
I have been a victim of each component of the sexual assault spectrum of which you speak. They all hurt. And they are all connected to a patriarchy intertwined with normalized, accepted–even welcomed– misogyny.
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) December 16, 2017
“That was an honest mistake to weigh in, and so I apologize for that,” he told Moneyish. “I do want to be apart of this historic change … I want to be in the car, but I’ll be in the back seat and I’ll keep my mouth shut.”
One way he’s vowed to better support women and minorities in the entertainment industry is through his Pearl Street Films production company, which he runs with actor and longtime friend Ben Affleck. They’ve adopted the inclusion rider agreement championed by Frances McDormand at the Oscars, a clause that demands racial and gender equity for film roles and off-camera jobs to increase the number of women, minorities and LGBTQ people working in entertainment. The legal agreement, formally known as the University of Southern California Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, was started by Dr. Stacy Smith.
“We needed to do better at our little company. So we said well okay what can we do? The best intentions just aren’t working, because the study [by Dr. Smith] was just really shocking — how sh—-y a job Hollywood is doing with inclusion industry-wide,” says Damon, who teamed up with Smith to enforce the initiative at his company.
“It [the inclusion rider] really is a tool to combat implicit bias. There’s just objectively no denying the fact that it’s a serious problem. The rider is hopefully a tool that can combat that. The hope would be that when Dr. Smith does her study again in a few years, that the data will have shifted and the industry will become more inclusive and will be a more honest reflection of the demographics of our country, because right now they’re not,” he adds.
It’s worth noting that out of the 100 top-grossing films of 2016, 47 did not include a single black woman or girl speaking on screen; 66 movies had no Asian female character; and 72 films didn’t feature Latinas, according to the University of Southern California. Damon hopes to be part of the change.
“I’ve talked to studio heads who are talking to their agencies about doing this. I’ve talked to lawyers, I’ve talked to actors, other movies stars, other producers — it feels like people are activated around this, and hopefully in a year we won’t need an inclusion rider because there will just be inclusion,” he notes.
The Academy-award winning screenwriter has also made philanthropy a top priority. He co-founded the non-profits Water.org, and the impact investment firm WaterEquity with fund manager Gary White. The duo teamed up with Belgian beer brand Stella Artois — which has donated nearly $8 million to Water.org since 2015 — to give up to five years of water for someone in the developing world with every purchase of a limited edition $13 chalice.
“It’s an issue that affects women and girls because they’re in charge of the water collection, so what that really means is often times girls aren’t in school because they’re scavenging for water,” says Damon. “That has huge impact on the kind of life they can expect to lead. If they spend all day every day trying to figure out where their families’ clean water is going to come from, they’re not living up to their potential. They don’t have dreams of a better life. They’re really in this death spiral of poverty.”
During one trip to Haiti, Damon was inspired by a 13-year-old girl who spent up to four hours collecting water after school for her family.
“We christened this new water system in her village, and the whole town was celebrating, and I took her aside and said, ‘So you spent four hours a day collecting water? … What are you going to do with all that time [now]? More time for homework, right?’ And she said, ‘No, I’m the smartest kid in my class. I don’t need more time for homework … I’m going to play,’” Damon recalls.
“It was just one of those moments — she was 13, my oldest kid is 13 — and it was just like, you know, of course she should be playing. She’s a 13-year-old kid,” he adds. “The fact that this crisis had robbed her of that … there’s the incredible improvement in someone’s life when you give them access to clean water.”
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