'The Matrix' has been screening all over this month in celebration of its 20th anniversary. But it turns out there's a whole other story behind it you may not know about.
Everyone knows and loves Neo (Keanu Reeves), Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie Ann Moss), but true 'Matrix' fans should also remember Tank (Marcus Chong).
Tank was the operator of the Nebuchadnezzar. He and his brother Dozer (Anthony Ray Parker) were born in Zion, and helped initiate Neo. At the end of the film, Tank is one of few characters left alive after Cypher's (Joe Pantoliano) killing spree. In fact, he and the three leads are the only survivors.
It begs the question, why wasn't Tank in the sequels 'The Matrix Reloaded' and 'The Matrix Revolutions'? You might recall that he was replaced by new character Link (Harold Perrineau), who's married to Zee (Nona Gaye), Tank and Dozer's sister. He becomes the new Nebuchadnezzar operator because Tank, the audience is told, died.
What the heck happened? And for that matter, how come the actor behind Tank, Marcus Chong, never went on to anything else? Well, it turns out the story of Marcus Chong is a strange one. And it's one he has told in his own YouTube documentary.
Chong had a promising career when he was cast in 'The Matrix', having starred in 'Little House on the Prairie' and 'Dallas' as a child, Carl Weathers' 'Street Justice' in the '90s, and various features and TV movies. His crowning achievement was playing Huey P. Newton in 'Panther' (1995), directed by Mario Van Peebles. But 'The Matrix' was his biggest gig of all. As we know, the movie was a major box office and critical success. It should have launched Chong to stardom. Instead, it destroyed his career.
Back in 2003, Chong filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros claiming the studio breached a verbal agreement and signed contract to bring Tank back for the Matrix sequels. He alleged that the filmmakers defamed him and claimed he was blackballed in Hollywood following their feud. They countered that the actor made repeated threatening phone calls to Warner Bros and the Wachowskis after a breakdown in talks over his salary (he was offered $400k and he wanted $1m for the films). Thus, his character was written out of the series.
In his documentary 'The Marcus Chong Story', which the actor posted to his YouTube channel last year, Chong claims that Warner Bros, producer Joel Silver, Keanu Reeves and the Wachowskis broke the law and stole his royalties. Aside from his $28k salary for 'The Matrix' (which Chong compares to his co-stars' paydays of $1m for Pantoliano, Fishburne's $7m and Reeves' $15m plus 15% of the gross profit off ticket sales due to his producer role), Chong received no residuals or royalties for 'The Matrix', unlike his co-stars including Ray Parker - not even from sales of the Tank doll.
According to Chong, it all goes back to Warner Bros not filing a SAG contract to make 'The Matrix' a union film, leaving him in the dark. For the sequels, Chong asserts they tried to force him into a fake SAG contract and refused to give a legal contract. Chong says at one point David Wirtschafter from the William Morris Agency, a rep for the Wachowskis, called Chong and threatened him to act in the movies because it was the only offer he'd get. The actor includes the image of a letter in which Warner Bros apparently falsely claim that they negotiated the Matrix sequels with Chong's lawyers. Chong claims that Warner Bros wouldn't even answer his agent's calls during the time of the salary negotiations.
The actor goes on to highlight how he was essentially hung out to dry by those around him. He includes email screengrabs demonstrating how he was denied help from a SAG attorney, who said they don't represent SAG members, but upon reaching out to the Warner Bros Vice President and Sr Litigation Counsel Kate Chilton, he was told his complaint was a matter for SAG. He also asserts that Reeves isn't the nice guy everyone thinks he is - in response to the story that Reeves donated $50m to the 'unsung heroes' of 'The Matrix', Chong says that this was only after Reeves stole money from departments such as stunts and animation as well as the actors, and that this late payment was to silence complainers and avoid tax.
It's a surreal 45-minute compilation in which Chong relates the story of his life and acting career up to and through making 'The Matrix' as well as the aftermath. It includes footage and stills from his various credits and ends with a surreal, frenzied collage of pictures from his youth, followed by screengrabs from news articles about those associated with the film. Headlines detail how casting director, Mali Finn, died in 2007, how producer Joel Silver was sued and dropped from Warner Bros, how Fishburne's daughter was arrested and how Reeves lost his wife in the years following 'The Matrix'. It's inescapably vindictive and includes a series of transphobic images highlighting how Reeves dated a transgender woman and the Wachowskis transitioned to women. These are followed by a picture of Chong laughing.
Whether any more light will be shone on this case seems doubtful. 'The Marcus Chong Story' has accumulated only 11k views (at the time of writing) since going live in February 2018, which you can hardly call viral. This year, Chong published a book called 'The Kill Off' which again goes into detail about what he says happened on 'The Matrix'. It's likely that Chong's story will continue to be ignored, and it's not difficult to see why.
It's important that abuses in Hollywood are called out and redressed and there is probably some truth in Chong's claims. However, his declarations are so seeped in resentment and aggression with some proclamations - for example, that Warner Bros tried "to send an assassin" to his home - so outrageous that they negate his whole case.
The inclusion of such moments as an aggressive phone call to Elisa Wachowski, a visit to the police station to file a report against Warners which leads to Chong being arrested himself, and articles about Chong being one of the "actors who sabotaged their careers" (which accuse Chong of doing things like sneaking in and stealing food from Matrix offices on the Warner Bros lot in Burbank, which Chong doesn't address, deny, or retort with what really happened) challenge the validity of Chong being just a victim.
We reached out to Warners and a representative for Lilly Wachowski regarding Chong's claims but no comment was given.