Ed Skrein Withdraws from “Hellboy” Following Whitewashing Outcry

Ed Skrein at an event for Transporter: Refueled in Tokyo Japan on Sept 28, 2015 (Photo credit: Masatoshi Okauchi / REX / Shutterstock (5185277l)).

Actor Ed Skrein — who had faced internet backlash last week or being cast to play a Japanese American character in the upcoming “Hellboy” rebootannounced earlier today that he had approached “Hellboy” producers with strong concerns, and that the actor had ultimately decided to withdraw from the project to make room for a Japanese American actor to fill the role.

In a thoughtful statement posted to Twitter, Skrein said he felt that he needed to “do what I feel is right.”

Here is the full text of the statement:

Last week it was announced that I would be playing Major Ben Daimio in the upcoming HELLBOY reboot. I accepted the role unaware that the character in the original comics was of mixed Asian heritage. There has been intense conversation and understandable upset since that announcement, and I must do what I feel is right.

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 int he Arts. I feel it is important to honour and respect that. Therefore I have decided to step down so the role can be cast appropriately.

Representation of ethnic diversity is important, especially to me as I have a mixed heritage family. It is our responsibility to make moral decisions in difficult times and to give voice to inclusivity. It is my hope that one day these discussions will become less necessary and that we can help make equal representation in the Arts a reality.

I am sad to leave Hellboy but if this decision brings us closer to that day, it is worth it. I hope it makes a difference.

With love and hope,

Ed Skrein

Pay attention, Emma Stone, Scarlett Johansson, and Tilda Swinton: this is how an actor should deal with being cast in a whitewashed role. Skrein exhibits no kneejerk defensiveness and no bizarre equivocations; instead, Skrein acknowledges that he was initially ignorant of the issue, that upon learning of the concerns he agreed that his casting is problematic, and that he has both the privilege and the responsibility to step aside and make way for producers to make a better casting decision. Of course, the problem here ultimately lay with the producers and casting directors of “Hellboy”, and not with the actors, but Skrein demonstrates that actors who find themselves in whitewashed roles can still take a powerful step to push-back against the erasure of non-white characters.

In an ideal future, characters would not be carelessly whitewashed by filmmakers. In an ideal future, it would not fall upon internet netizens to call out seriously problematic casting decisions made by major Hollywood studios — which have to go through several rounds of approval before they are announced. In an ideal future, the casting of actors of colour to play character of colour would not be an anathema, and it would not be the responsibility of communities of colour to point that out. But until then, Skrein’s withdrawal from “Hellboy” is a positive step in the right direction.

Skrein’s withdrawal should pay off. His announcement has already been retweeted nearly 24,000 times, with most replies to the tweet overwhelmingly positive. “Hellboy” star David Harbour lauded Skrein for the decision in his own tweet:

The Hollywood Reporter also reproduced a portion of a statement from “Hellboy” producers Larry Gordon and Lloyd Levin, as well as from studios Millennium and Lionsgate, saying:

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.

No word yet as to the fate of “Hellboy” Executive Producer Christa Campbell, who briefly tweeted the exact wrong things to say in the wake of being called out for whitewashing.

Nonetheless, Skrein should be commended for doing the right thing and for stepping down from the “Hellboy” project. He should further be commended for doing so publicly, and in a way that will hold “Hellboy” producers accountable for the steps they take going forward.

I for one will be more interested in supporting Skrein as an actor in his future projects in the wake of this decision, and I look forward with interest to see how “Hellboy” producers recast the role of Major Ben Daimio.

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  • Vivant Mannyng

    Skrein acknowledges that he was initially ignorant of the issue, that
    upon learning of the concerns he agreed that his casting is problematic

    That isn’t really what his statement says. He says he wasn’t aware that the character in the comic is mixed-race.

    Having read some of the comics where Ben Daimio is introduced, I’m not surprised. It is definitely not immediately clear that the character is Asian-American. The comics basically treat the character’s background as a mystery; there are hints and clues, but it isn’t really revealed that the character has a Japanese grandmother until many issues after the character is introduced.