Ed Skrein Departs Hellboy Over Whitewashing Concerns

by Erik Amaya

 

Deadpool actor Ed Skrein will no longer play Ben Daimio in the Hellboy reboot.

As we reported last week, Skrein was in negotiations to play the sometimes BPRD commander with an unusual case of jaguar lycanthropy. In the days following announcement, many on social media noted Daimio’s status as a Japanese America character and that casting Skrein was another case of whitewashing. The phenomenon is pretty simple: a Hollywood studio casts a white actor in a role meant to be non-white. Lately, the practice has received more scrutiny when the character in question is Asian — Asian American actors and characters are woefully underrepresented in major American media — and saw films like Ghost in the Shell and Death Note criticized for handing the traditionally Japanese lead roles to white actors for their major studio adaptations. Last year’s Doctor Strange and this year’s Iron Fist saw Marvel also facing concerns about whitewashing a number of its characters.

And so it seemed Skrein would be the latest in a long list of actors waiting the controversy out and staying in the role, but as the actor announced on Twitter earlier today, he’s chosen to walk away.

Lionsgate, the studio behind the reboot, provided a statement to The Hollywood Reporter which confirmed Skrein’s departure. According to the statement, “Ed came to us and felt very strongly about this. We fully support his unselfish decision. It was not our intent to be insensitive to issues of authenticity and ethnicity, and we will look to recast the part with an actor more consistent with the character in the source material.”

The move is unprecedented. And it is important to examine what happened in this situation. Skrein took a role in the next big comic book reboot. Unfamiliar with the comic or its world, he assumed his cultural background aligned with the history of the character. Or, as is also possible, he assumed the character had a “default” ethnicity which could be molded to him. Upon learning the truth, he took his concerns to the producers of the film and backed out of the project. He made a choice he didn’t have to make.

But no doubt some will see this as “bowing to pressure.” Instead, let’s look at this as someone learning a crucial piece of information about a character and realizing he’s unsuitable for the part.

When casting directors assemble potential talent for roles, there is an assumption that the character is white unless otherwise specifically indicated. Casting sheets must literally spell out that a character is black, Latinx, Japanese, etc. before casting directors will think to look at their files of non-white performers. It then bleeds down to performers, who also assume the default if the character breakdown makes no mention of a specific cultural background. It is a systemic issue across the industry. Everyone still assumes white is the default. And I have to be honest, despite Ben Daimio’s name, I wasn’t sure if he was meant to be of Japanese descent in the pages of BPRD until it became a plot point. I’m Latinx and I still assume white as the default.

With a better understanding the situation, Skrein did the honorable thing and stepped aside so an actor closer to Daimio’s heritage could take the role. It’s extraordinary and the only way to for the systemic issue to change. While it is unclear how central a role Daimio will have in Hellboy, it will be a prominent role for an Asian American actor. If he’s anything like his comic book counterpart, he will be in a position of authority and a capable commander — except for the jaguar thing, of course — a still extremely rare thing to see in an Asian American character.

Which is all a very long way of saying this matters and that Skrein should be applauded for his choice.

Hellboy will return in 2018.

Erik Amaya

Host of Tread Perilously and a Film/TV Writer at Comicon.com. A contributing writer at CBR, Fanbase Press, Monkeys Fighting Robots and Rotten Tomatoes. Voice of Puppet Tommy on The Room Responds. A seeker of the Seastone Chair and the owner of a Legion Flight Ring. Sorted into Gryffindor, which came as some surprise.