In the latest round of Hollywood whitewashing of Asian or Asian American characters, British actor Ed Skrein (The Transporter Refueled, Deadpool) has been cast in an upcoming reboot of Dark Horse Comics’ Hellboy series. Skrein will play Major Ben Daimio, a Japanese American member of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense with the power to shapeshift into a were-jaguar when under physical or psychological duress.
Skrein is not Japanese.
Daimio’s Japanese American heritage has influenced the character’s history and storylines. According to Wikipedia, Daimio is the grandson of the Crimson Lotus (also known as, Yumiko Daimio), a Japanese spy active in New York City before and during World War II. When Ben Daimio’s relationship to the Crimson Lotus is revealed, his patriotism is questioned despite having been born in the United States, having been raised in a military family by his father, a war hero, and having served tours as a highly-decorated US Marine. Daimio’s body is possessed by a jaguar spirit when he is killed while on a mission in Bolivia, and he is brought back to life by it although his face still bears the scars of that mission.
After seeing Hollywood green-light projects that actively erase Asian Americans from the silver screen (think Emma Stone playing Allison Ng or a whitewashed Doctor Strange) it’s understandable if pop culture watchers reflectively flinch when they hear news of upcoming mainstream film projects featuring characters of color.
That’s also why I did a little squeal of glee in the middle of Starbucks on Friday when I saw the news that Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek was just cast as Freddie Mercury in the upcoming Queen biopic, which is titled Bohemian Rhapsody. Malek’s casting is also hopefully a sign that this movie (which was first announced way back in 2007) is finally on the right track.
One of the frustrations of how the Aloha controversy has played out on the larger social media stage has involved the language that we use to discuss the strange White-washing of Allison Ng. As Sharon Chang has pointed out, outrage has focused on the casting of a White woman to play a multiracial Chinese American character; comparatively little attention has been focused on either the impact of Aloha (or its casting) on either Native Hawaiian indigenous politics, or on multiracial identity politics.
This week, rumours began circulating that Tilda Swinton was in casting negotiations for Marvel’s upcoming Dr. Strange film starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the titular role. Swinton is being considered for the role of the Ancient One, a nearly-immortal Tibetan sorcerer who becomes the young Dr. Strange’s mystic tutor and personal mentor.