An Actor Gives Up a Part Because of Whitewashing Backlash, for Once

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In an incredibly rare move, actor Ed Skrein has left the upcoming Hellboy reboot so that the Asian character he would have played “can be cast appropriately.”

For the past few years, Hollywood has weathered no shortage of whitewashing controversies: Matt Damon, Emma Stone, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara, and plenty of other stars have drawn ire for portraying various characters in films that were originally conceived as being nonwhite. (Perhaps most recently, Netflix’s Death Note adaptation courted frustration as it transplanted its entire story from Japan to Seattle.) On Monday, however, actor Ed Skrein—who was set to play Major Ben Daimio in the upcoming, David Harbour-starring Hellboy reboot—has stepped down from the project so that, in his words, “the role can be cast appropriately.” Skrein is white and English; in the Hellboy comics, Daimio is Japanese-American.

Typically, actors who find themselves at the center of a whitewashing controversy tend to face blowback but soldier on. In this case, however, it seems Skrein—who says he, like the character, is of “mixed heritage”—has decided to go a different route. He posted a full explanation for his decision on Twitter:

“It is clear that representing this character in a culturally accurate way holds significance for people,” Skrein wrote, “and 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.”

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Skrein stressed the importance of representation, noting, “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.”

This is just one small step in the road toward equal representation, and far from proof that the fight is over—but it’s worth noting how rare it is for an actor to do such a thing, especially when the role is in a major franchise like this one. Considering what an appearance in a film like this can do to boost a non-A-list actor’s profile, it’s commendable. Soon after Skrein’s announcement, Harbour praised the actor and everyone who called the casting decision out on Twitter, writing, “Hey internet. Thank you for your voices. An injustice was done and will be corrected. Many thanks to @edskrein for doing what is right.” Here’s hoping that in the future, A-listers follow Skrein’s example.

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