Last week, the British actor Ed Skrein, whom you may recognize from Deadpool and early seasons of Game of Thrones, excitedly announced that he’d be playing Major Ben Daimio in Lionsgate and Millennium’s upcoming reboot of of Hellboy, thereby joining a cast that included David Harbour, Sasha Lane, and Milla Jovovich.
Almost immediately after the announcement, though, Skrein and the film’s production faced came under fire because in the original graphic novel, the character of Daimio was Asian. The controversy was essentially a repeat of when Tilda Swinton and Marvel came under fire last year, when studio cast her as the historically Tibetan “Ancient One” in its film adaptation of Doctor Strange.
Swinton, for one, took notice of the outcry, and engaged in a dialogue about why she took the part and the larger problem of whitewashing in Hollywood; in particular, her email correspondence with the comic Margaret Cho became a lightening rod. Skrein, on the other hand, apparently noticed he was getting more replies than retweets when he shared the news of his upcoming role—many along the lines of “You’re a talented actor; why would you take away a role from an Asian colleague?”—and chose to step aside altogether.
Recognizing that whitewashing, particularly when it comes to Asian characters—to the point that the New York Times published an op-ed titled, “Why Won’t Hollywood Cast Asian Actors?” last year—is a persistent, industry-wide issue, Skrein announced on Monday that, after “intense conversation and understandable upset,” he would be dropping out a role he said he hadn’t previously realized was meant for a person “of mixed Asian heritage.”
“It is clear that representing this character in a culturally accurate way holds significance for people, and that to neglect this responsibility would continue a worrying tendency to obscure ethnic minority stories and voices in the Arts,” Skrein said. “I feel it is important to honour and respect that. Therefore I have decided to step down so the role can be cast appropriately.”
His decision has immediately drawn acclaim, including from the creator of the comic book, Mike Mignola; rather than backlash, Skrein’s Instagram comments are now filled with words like “respect” and sentences like “This is what we want to see in the world.”
As for his would-be employer, Lionsgate, which will start filming Hellboy in October, could hardly argue: “Ed came to us and felt very strongly about this. We fully support his unselfish decision,” Lionsgate said in a statement. “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.”
As for what Skrein will do next? Well, first, he has four films coming up within the next year, including some roles alongside Eiza González and Emily Ratajkowski. But it looks like giving up his latest gig may actually serve to benefit the newly popular actor, too: The comedian Patton Oswalt, for one, has already put out a call to his four million industry-friendly followers: “Someone give this guy tons of work.”
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