Actor Matt Damon sure has had an up and down past few weeks. First, Damon made some questionable comments on HBO’s Project Greenlight, a documentary developed by Damon himself (along with some famous friends including buddy Ben Affleck) focusing on first-time filmmakers being given the chance to direct a feature film. When African-American producer Effie Brown asked the judges to use caution in selecting a directing team for a film project under consideration, pointing out that the only black person on screen was a “hooker who gets hit by her white pimp,” Damon stated that in “talking about diversity” it should be done in the casting of the film, not the casting of the show [i.e., film-making team].” Damon later stated that this was a film-making competition and the job should be attained “entirely upon merit” and not other factors.
Later, in an interview with Observer Magazine to promote his new film The Martian, Damon stated his belief that one is a better actor the less people know about you, and that “sexuality is a huge part of that.” Damon further noted “it’s tough to make the argument that” Rupert Everett, an openly gay actor, “didn’t take a hit for being out” despite being a handsome and classically trained actor.
Sorry, Matt, but I don’t think people liked them apples. Whether you think Damon’s comments were taken out of context or simply misguided, the fact is that Damon took quite a hit in the media. People took offense to Damon lecturing an African-American woman about diversity and (perhaps unwittingly) contending that race and merit are mutually exclusive. As a result, #damonsplaining became a twitter sensation, defined partly as talking down to a person of color to explain something to them about their own race or culture. He also was lambasted for contending that an actor’s sexuality should remain a mystery for purposes of their art, which causes gay actors to live a secretive life (as actors would likely be assumed straight if they said nothing), denies other gay people a role model to look up to, and perpetuates the fact that LGBT individuals should be shamed to suffer in silence.
As predicted, Damon immediately went on the apology tour. He issued statements and made appearances apologizing for his comments as being misunderstood and advocating the continued discussion of diversity. And then his movie, The Martian, debuted this past week with a massive $55 million opening weekend. I’m guessing Damon is going to be all right.
Employers need to be put in a position to do damage control before the you-know-what hits the fan, like Damon was able to do. In some cases, employers, and their managers, often are given the opportunity to tell their story or state why a comment was misunderstood only after an employee has filed a charge or lawsuit for discrimination. And by this point you’re dealing with increasing litigation defense costs and worries of which side a juror may take in such a sensitive dispute.
The more proactive approach is to ensure you have a robust, written, and clear internal procedure with respect to employee complaints and/or open door policy that is communicated, and reinforced, to all employees. And ensure that all managers/supervisors are well-trained on these procedures and how to handle them. This way, when any employee goes rogue, embarks on a #damonsplaining tangent, or even makes a statement they believe is an innocent remark, any offended party can use these internal procedures and the company can resolve the dispute in a timely and efficient manner that eliminates future issues, including diminishing the likelihood of a lawsuit.
Now please forgive me, but I have to go and check what times The Martian is playing this weekend.