Food for Thought: Was Ed Skrein Right to Leave Hellboy Over Whitewashing Controversy?


In this editorial series, Food for Thought, we take a popular story making the rounds in the world of film news, and we analyze it. Here, we will break this news story down, talk about it in great depth, and really analyze every portion of it. Now, these stories will be more than a regular casting call or some movie title; something we can easily write a regular article on. These editorials will rather feature more grey topics, that are highly opinionated and highlight strong discussions. Then, you the reader get to go into the comments section and talk about what you agree with, and what you disagree with. So, without further ado, let's get started!

In this installment, we will talk about whether Ed Skrein made the right decision to drop out of the Hellboy reboot over the whitewashing controversy.



Just a few days ago, news came out that actor Ed Skrein, who played Francis in Deadpool, had been cast in the new Hellboy reboot as a character named Ben Daimio. I never read the Hellboy comics, so I wasn't overly familiar with the character. So I didn't really think much of the casting, other than being excited to see Skrein in a new project. However, Ben in the comics is of Asian descent, and fans of the comics were outraged that Skrein, who is white, was cast instead of an Asian actor. Skrein was confronted online about the casting, where he was met with heavy criticism. To be completely honest, I didn't think much about this story at first. I could sit here all day telling you about all the times characters of different ethnicities had been cast with white actors. It happens all the time. So, as unfortunate as it is, this felt like just regular run-of-the-mill Hollywood. That is, until Skrein dropped out of Hellboy. Skrein left the project, citing the whitewashing controversy as the reason for his departure. To announce his leaving the film, Skrein posted a statement about whitewashing in Hollywood, and it's certainly worth reading and talking about. You can read Skrein's statement below:


Whitewashing has been an issue in Hollywood since the dawn of the film industry. Look no further than Birth of a Nation in 1915, where white actors in blackface played African Americans because director D.W. Griffith didn't believe black actors could give the performances he wanted as well as white actors could. And really ever since we've seen whitewashing occur constantly in the industry. Maybe not as outright as Birth of a Nation, but it's certainly been there. Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton playing Egyptian characters in Exodus: Gods and Kings. Director Ridley Scott famously said that the movie would've made no money had he cast "Mohammad so-and-so" in the lead role. Emma Stone's character in Aloha being Asian American, and Stone (who is clearly white) playing an Asian woman. Johnny Depp playing the quintessential Native American character, Tonto, in The Lone Ranger. When Gerard Butler starred in Gods of Egypt, the producers quickly apologized before there was even a controversy, showing that you can get away with whitewashing if you simply apologize, but never actually change your ways. So this happens all the time. But what Skrein did here is incredibly admirable. Instead of just taking the role and apologizing afterwards, he stepped down and called the filmmakers out on it. This move on Skrein's part has made me gain a lot of respect for him. This is a move many actors and filmmakers have fallen short of doing, and he finally said enough was enough. So I have immense respect for Skrein for giving up a great career opportunity, and probably a sizable paycheck, in order to do what was ultimately right. 

In reality, Skrein playing this character would not have been the worst case of whitewashing the world had ever seen. This would not have been Johnny Depp playing Tonto, or Stone playing an Asian American character. This would have pretty much gone over everybody's heads. But Skrein is right in saying that this shouldn't be normal. We shouldn't just accept this. And I know there are people out there wondering why this is even an issue. Well, it's because, by replacing Native American, Asian American, African American, Latino roles with white actors, you're robbing people of those ethnicities and backgrounds a chance for representation on screen. White male characters are overly prevalent in movies today. We already don't get to see African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Latinos represented equally on screen. So when you have an opportunity to represent someone from that ethnicity on screen, you should seize it. It feels like a slap in the face to those demographics by purposely placing a white person in that role. Especially with Tonto. Without a doubt, he is the most iconic and famous Native American character, and it was incredibly offensive to not give it to a Native American actor. Not every little detail has to be copied from the source material into the film; it is an adaptation. But the ethnicities of the characters is something that should carry over. Casting a black actor in a formerly white role is not an issue because there are so many white roles in Hollywood today, and not enough black roles. So by making it a black role, you are giving new opportunity where there wasn't before. But by making a black role (or, in this case, Asian) white, you are decreasing opportunities, and ridding the big screen of equal representation. In short, I think Ed Skrein made the right decision, and I'm glad he called out the producers like this. I think they will now find an Asian actor for the role, and hopefully this will be a step towards wider progress in Hollywood.


What do you think? Did Ed Skrein make the right decision to drop out of Hellboy? Was this a serious case of whitewashing, or is this all being blown out of proportion. Who would you like to see play Ben Daimio instead? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Written by: Nate
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