Ed Skrein in The Transporter Refueled

In a possibly unprecedented win against whitewashing, Ed Skrein has stepped down from playing Major Ben Daimio in the Neil Marshall-helmed reboot of Hellboy.

The Japanese-American character had become a source of controversy when Skrein, a white British actor, was cast in the role last week. Criticisms of whitewashing mounted against the casting until finally Skrein announced on Monday that he has decided to leave the project.

The trend of whitewashing characters — casting white actors in roles that were originally written for or as people of color — has become a blight in Hollywood, with roles in major tentpoles or superhero movies often becoming a lightning rod for conversations on the lack of diversity and representation in films. Films like Doctor Strange and Ghost in the Shell were heavily criticized for changing characters’ ethnicities to white, despite being of Asian descent in the source material.

But protest as they might, social media and pop culture critics couldn’t enact change against a powerful industry like Hollywood, which is slow in its movement toward progress — as seen by Skrein’s casting in Hellboy, just months after Ghost in the Shell bombed at the box office amidst whitewashing outcry. Until now.

Skrein may be the first actor to step down from a role over cultural and representation issues after social media and journalists criticized the choice — which is huge.

Skrein posted on Twitter, “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.” He then announced that it is his choice to leave Hellboy.

This may be the first time protests against whitewashing has actually amounted to action on the part of the studio — or in this case, the actor. Usually actors and directors get defensive of the choices, resulting in some cringeworthy and culturally insensitive soundbites.

Whitewashing has become commonly associated with Asian or Southeast Asian characters, as Asian-American voices have traditionally been the ones the most subdued in the pop culture discourse until about two to three years ago. It could be pinpointed to the 2016 Oscars in which discussions over the lack of Asian-American representations reached a boiling point, and the mainstream became more aware of Asian voices in pop culture. This is an exciting win and hopefully another piece of evidence to Hollywood that they should stop whitewashing. Despite the conversation reaching another zenith this year with Ghost in the Shell and Death Note, we still have Zach McGowan being cast as a Hawaiian native and World War II hero.

I admire Skrein for stepping down from the role, especially after many criticisms were probably unfairly lobbied at him personally. I don’t fault him for being white as much as I don’t fault him for wanting to take a job in a blockbuster movie. It’s encouraging that he is willing to go that extra mile to prove that he is respectful of the character’s Japanese-American origins, and push for more diversity in blockbuster films.

The Hellboy reboot, which is separate from Guillermo del Toro’s first two films, stars David Harbour as the titular hero, and will feature heavy involvement from Hellboy creator Mike MignolaHellboy currently doesn’t have a release date.

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