Wow, someone finally had courage to take a stand against the abhorrent Hollywood casting system.
For decades, the Hollywood practice of whitewashing has restricted people of color to the margins of the filmmaking business. Characters that were racial and/or ethnic minorities in their respective source material are all too often cast as Caucasian in Hollywood film adaptations, and Hollywood (The supposed liberal utopia of all places!) has unapologetically excused this shameful practice by virtue of how major studios repeatedly make the incredibly douchy claim of how white movie stars bring bigger box office returns than people of color.
Yes, the reasoning as to why major studios that are worth billions of dollars and throw obscene amounts of money at box office bombs such as The Mummy (2017) regularly whitewash characters is because they believe their films wouldn’t be profitable otherwise. Hence, why we’ve had to endure films that made horrid casting decisions like this year’s live-action Ghost in the Shell remake where Scarlett Johansson played a Japanese woman.
Yep, it’s 2017 and that actually happened.
Forgive me if I’m not very sympathetic towards Hollywood’s cries of poverty. Hollywood’s pitiful excuse that sells out quality minority actors and actresses for cash completely undermines the fact that there would be more movie stars that are people of color if the major film studios would actually cast minority actors in more roles. I mean, it just sounds like basic math: the more roles available for people of color should result in more exposure for those whose talents are otherwise unfairly concealed by the color of their skin.
Not too fuckin’ complicated if you ask me.
Alas, the powers that be at Hollywood don’t understand common sense, and we live in a world where any criticism against whitewashing is met with total indifference. When standing accused of making these casting mistakes, big studios and major actors parrot the all too familiar phrases that their public relations people wrote for them and claim how they’re glad that this started a conversation and will still try their best to do justice to the character.
Of course, this is a bunch of bullshit because the studios, producers, and actors proceed to enact the same exact mistakes over an over again, effectively making their apologies meaningless, and Hollywood will continue their avoidance of casting people of color in roles until someone with privilege (i.e. white) from inside the system who has the balls (or the clit) to upend the whole shitty system.
Enter actor Ed Skrein and his prodigal balls.
For those of you who aren’t in the know, Skrein (most well known as being the villain “Francis” in last year’s Deadpool film) was recently cast as Major Ben Daimio in the upcoming reboot of Hellboy. While not much is known about the project, being cast in a high profile comic book movie is a huge boost to Skrein’s career and a great addition to one’s resume.
Sure, the Hellboy reboot has the unenviable task of living up to cult fan-favorite director Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, but seeing as the new reincarnation of the beloved comic book demon created by Mike Mignola isn’t releasing until 2018 and has attained the talents of director Neil Marshall (Game of Thrones), actor David Harbour (Netflix’s Stranger Things), supporting actor Ian McShane, actress Milla Jovovich, and big time production companies in Lionsgate and Millenium, the creative team behind the film has the time and aptitude to work out the kinks.
Regardless of how the film turns out, Skrein playing a major part in Hellboy (2018) would have opened the door for him to play bigger and meatier roles in the future which is why it’s all that more incredible when he graciously decided to step down from the role of Ben Daimio after his casting caused a substantial public backlash due to how, you guessed it, Major Ben Daimio is of mixed Asian American heritage in the source material and was whitewashed when Skrein originally accepted the part.
Unselfishly, Skrein (who didn’t know that the character had been whitewashed upon accepting the role) announced that he vacated the part as of August 28th due to reasons of morality and conscientiousness and issued this thoughtful statement to explain his reasoning:
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 in the 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,
Skrein’s decision to do the right thing may be obvious, but it’s actually a pretty big deal. He could have easily staid on the project, get his paycheck, and move on to bigger and better movies, but he instead handled the situation with an elegance and sensitivity that most A-list actors have sorely lacked.
In the past, movie studios and actors responded to similar criticisms by basically saying “we know it’s wrong but it is what it is,” and audiences just had to deal with it.
However, the game has changed now. Skrein walking away from Hellboy was a bold statement to the Hollywood elite that it is possible and relatively easy for an actor and/or studio to do the right thing in this scenario, and judging by the joint statement by the Hellboy producers Larry Gordon and Lloyd Levin along with representatives from Lionsgate and Millenium, Skrein’s morally sound statement was received loud and clear:
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.
Now that’s what I call progress.
Undoubtedly, Hollywood will inevitably commit the sin of casting a whitie in a role that rightfully belongs to a person of color again, but Skrein has set a precedent where this draconian transgression is now seen as immoral. Actors who find themselves in a similar situation will have an ethical barometer to judge whether or not they should avoid or leave roles that have been whitewashed.
While I’m not optimistic that whitewashing will end anytime soon, I do believe we are nearing the beginning of the end of this disgraceful practice.