Actor Ed Skrein has given up up his role in the new “Hellboy” reboot after complaints of “whitewashing” due to the fact that the character he would portray is Asian in the comic books.
“Last week it was announced that I would be playing Major Ben Daimio in the upcoming Hellboy reboot,” Skrein wrote in a statement. “It is clear that representing this character in a culturally accurate way holds significance for people . . . Therefore I have decided to step down so that the role can be cast appropriately.”
Daimio is Japanese American in Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy” comics and his heritage is central to his backstory. Daimio’s grandmother was a Japanese Imperial assassin in World War II.
Skrein, who played the villain in “Deadpool,” claimed he wasn’t aware of the character’s ethnicity when he took the role. Some on social media had claimed Skrein was taking a role away from an Asian colleague.
The backlash followed previous controversies including the castings of Emma Stone as a half-Hawaiian, half-Chinese Air Force pilot in Cameron Crowe’s “Aloha” and Scarlett Johansson as the cyborg protagonist in the Japanese anime remake “Ghost in the Shell.” The recent Netflix release of the Japanese manga adaptation “Death Note” also drew criticism for transferring a Japanese story to Seattle without any Asian actors.
Though Masamune Shirow, director of the original “Ghost in the Shell,” defended Johansson’s casting, many lambasted the choice. When the $110 million film flopped in April, Paramount Pictures said the casting conversation impacted reviews, and thus its disappointing box-office debut.
Studies have shown that diverse casts often lead to better box office. And yet the top 100 films of 2015, a USC study found, contained not one leading role for an Asian American.
That has led to increasing frustration for many prominent Asian American actors and produced some clever parodies. A New York digital strategist named William Yu, inspired by the “OscarsSoWhite” backlash, created the website and hashtag “StarringJohnCho.” In photo-shopped movie posters, he imagines Cho single-handedly filling the Asian American leading-man void in everything from “The Martian” to “Me Before You.”
Producers of “Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen” said they fully supported Skrein’s “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,” said Larry Gordon, Lloyd Levin, Lionsgate and Millennium Films in a joint statement. ■