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Why the “Hellboy” casting controversy is so important

Sep. 13, 2017
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Reflecting back on articles I’ve written for Adolescent and my general perception of the way the entertainment industry treats Asian Americans, I tend to primarily write about the negative impact of Hollywood’s lack of Asian representation—as well as its fondness for yellowface and whitewashing—on our culture. Given Hollywood’s track record, it’s not surprising that many Asian Americans share my sentiments. This time, however, amid so many stories about Hollywood’s devaluation of Asian American culture, I would like to celebrate the progress that Asian American community has made thus far. In a BBC article published toward the end of August, actor Ed Skrein has pulled out from the role of Major Ben Daimio in the upcoming Hellboy reboot due to backlash.  

In the original comic book, Major Ben Daimio is portrayed as a Japanese American character. In a statement posted to Twitter, Skrein stated that when he was originally cast he didn’t know the ethnic heritage of his character but stepped down a week later “so the role can be cast appropriately.” He further states in his statement that he hopes his decision will help “make equal representation in the Arts a reality.”

This is a tremendous step forward. Ed Skrein, most notably known in his villain role of Ajax in Deadpool, gave up on a huge opportunity in a major action film in order to make a statement. In other articles I have written in the past about topics such as whitewashing in Ghost in the Shell and Iron Fist, I noted the acute criticism which actors Scarlett Johannsson and Colin Jones received for accepting their roles. Both actors defended their position, claiming that “diversity is important” and that the cast of each project was already “diverse.” However, both actors never explicitly apologized to the Asian American community for taking those roles—and, oddly enough, both the movie and the show didn’t fare well in either ratings or reception.

However, Skrein’s acknowledgement that he was “unaware” of the character’s ethnic heritage and his public apology are exactly what the Asian community deserves. It’s okay to be ignorant on issues, but once one has realized the root of the problem, one should stand up against it, rather than blubbering flimsy excuses. And Skrein’s willingness to call public attention to the problem has already resulted in positive changes: it was announced yesterday that Asian-American actor Daniel Dae Kim would replace Skrein in the role of Major Ben Daimio.

As important as it is that we acknowledge the positive impact of Skrein’s decision, attention is also due to the real change-makers in this situation: the fans. This entire ordeal was initiated because fans on social media and other websites adamantly opposed Skrein’s casting as the latest in a long list of Hollywood whitewashings. So often, I and so many other Asian Americans feel like by protesting these decisions we are just shouting into an empty void. 

It is so beautifully exciting to see that we do have a voice—and that, once in a blue moon, our voices are heard.