When Ed Skrein was first cast in Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen, it felt like yet another entry in a long, disheartening series of casting choices by Hollywood that whitewashed Asian characters and gave the roles to white actors. Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, Emma Stone in Aloha, and the Death Note remake had all been such disappointments in the area of representation, and Skrein’s casting as Japanese-American character Ben Daimio felt like a continuation of that.
But by stepping down from the role in response the wave of online criticism, Skrein gave Hollywood casting directors what they call a “wake-up call.” EW reports that after Hellboy producers supported his departure, casting directors took notice. They quote one named Russell Boast, who said, “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.”
Up until now, when confronted with critiques citing whitewashing in their films, just about everybody in Hollywood has made defensive excuses. Directors like Ridley Scott, actors like Scarlett Johansson and producers like Roy Lee all try to shift blame to somebody or something else, like the financial realities of Hollywood, to defend their erasure of minority voices. Boast went on to say this:
“The studios blame the writers, the casting directors get blamed for not talking to the showrunners, and it goes around, and so it’s nice for an actor to slip into this and go, ‘Alright, I’m also going to be a part of the solution and not just the problem.’ It’s exciting for the industry.”
Another casting director, Julia Kim, is also quoted by EW:
“I think it’s remarkable [he chose to leave]. 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.”
Let’s hope that this is the start of a real conversation, one in which Hollywood actually listens. It’s never advisable to bank on the moral compass of Hollywood, but maybe in the future filmmakers won’t just make lame excuses to pass off their behavior, and do what Ed Skrein did: actually make a difference in the way these movies treat these characters.