Ed Skrein leaving Hellboy is ‘a wake-up call,’ Hollywood casting directors say – EW.com
Scarlett and Emma and Tilda — and almost Ed.
Ed Skrein had been on deck to be the next actor to play a “whitewashed” Asian character, but on Monday, less than a week after he joined the Hellboy reboot as Major Ben Daimio, a half-Japanese character in the comics, Skrein chose to leave the project. Skrein had watched as his casting drew a wave of online protest, he explained in a statement, and he understood why accepting the role would take an opportunity away from an Asian actor.
“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 tweeted. “It is our responsibility to make moral decisions in difficult times and to give voice to inclusivity.”
The decision caught Hollywood by surprise and drew praise from Skrein’s colleagues. “My gut reaction when I read [his statement] was, ‘Wow, that’s a brave move,’ because I’m sure that was a role he really wanted and fought for,” says casting director Lucinda Syson, who cast Skrein in 2015’s The Transporter Refueled and most recently worked on films like Wonder Woman. “Now, I think everyone’s had a wake-up call… This discussion is an incredibly healthy one, and I think it’s long overdue.”
“He’s going to be remembered for authentic representation on screen,” says casting director Russell Boast (Hulu’s Chance), who heads the Casting Society of America’s diversity committee. “I think [his decision] will resonate with many actors who have never thought about standing up and saying they don’t want to be a part of this whitewashing game that’s being played.”
That game has gone on for some time. Whitewashing has been a Hollywood habit for decades, but it’s sparked more waves of online protests over the past two years as the Asian-American community rallied to push for more inclusive casting. The most egregious examples of recent whitewashing: Emma Stone playing a character of Hawaiian and Chinese descent in 2015’s Aloha, Tilda Swinton playing a character traditionally portrayed as Asian in the comic books in 2016’s Doctor Strange, and Scarlett Johansson playing the lead in this year’s Ghost in the Shell, an adaptation of a Japanese anime classic rooted in Eastern culture. (To make matters worse, the film’s plot twist explained Johansson’s casting by revealing that she had been a Japanese woman who had been placed inside a white woman’s body, literally erasing her identity.)
Yet, up until Skrein, not a single actor has backed away from such a role, and filmmakers have stood by their choices, arguing most often that Hollywood lacks Asian movie stars to carry their films. So what does Skrein’s decision mean for the industry?
As far as talent goes, indie casting director Julia Kim (But I’m a Cheerleader) says the positive response to his statement should be proof to any actor who lands in hot water that defending their casting is the worse move, image-wise. “I think it’s remarkable [he chose to leave],” she says, pointing out that Skrein isn’t exactly an A-list, household name, but an actor whose star has just begun to rise after his villainous role in Deadpool. “He could have really benefitted from a big role like this in a big film. But it would have been negative attention [if he stayed], and this is positive attention… In a way, he shifted the responsibility to the actors themselves and fixed the problem from inside out. That sets a platform for other actors to either follow or not follow.”
Skrein’s statement, along with his thorough explanation of his choice, makes it harder for actors in the future to claim ignorance of the issue or deflect questions about their casting. It’s one thing for fans to sign petitions and create campaigns for Asian-American representation; it’s another when a member of the industry sets an example. “It makes me feel good that there’s sort of a brotherhood of arms with that, that they’re being respectful of each other,” Kim says. “It’s an actor’s job to play something that they’re not, but the conversation is growing even louder now that actors are stepping up and being responsible to the role and to other actors.”