The internet erupted when Ed Skrein, who is white, was cast as Ben Daimio, who is canonically Japanese-American, in the upcoming Hellboy reboot. Skrein heard the outcry and decided to do something about it. On Monday, the actor announced that he was dropping out of the film via a statement on Twitter.
“Last week it was announced that I would be playing Major Ben Daimio in the upcoming Hellboy reboot,” Skrein wrote. “I accepted the role unaware that the character in the original comics was of mixed Asian heritage. There has been intense conversation and understandable upset since that announcement, and I must do what I feel is right.”
Skrein’s decision comes after a handful of high profile films were accused of whitewashing this past year, including Doctor Strange for its casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One, and Ghost in The Shell for making Scarlett Johansson the lead of a film based on a Japanese manga.
Skrein—who’s best known for playing the villain Ajax in Deadpool and the original Daario Naharis in Game of Thrones—wrote that while it was difficult for him to step down, “it is our responsibility to make moral decisions in difficult times and to give voice to inclusivity.”
His decision met with praise around Hollywood. Hellboy creator Mike Mignola tweeted, “Thank you [Ed Skrein], very nicely done,” while producers Larry Gordon and Lloyd Levin released a statement in support of 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,” they said.
The long-term impact of Skrein’s actions remains to be seen, but it’s likely to reverberate through the Hollywood community for years to come. Skrein is still very much an actor on the rise, and roles in major blockbusters are like rare birds. The fact that he stood up for his beliefs despite what it could mean for his career is kind of astonishing, especially in an industry as fickle as show business.
Is there a chance that Skrein is suddenly seen as a maverick—someone who’s willing to publicly grandstand and embarrass the people that hired him in order to make a point? Sure, but based on the reaction from his peers, Skrein has a lot more friends than foes.
Respect. pic.twitter.com/DOd1CxOp9M— Ken Jeong (@kenjeong) August 28, 2017
I wanna work with @edskrein.— John Cho (@JohnTheCho) August 29, 2017
Now following @EdSkrein.— Ava DuVernay (@ava) August 29, 2017
One thing’s for certain: Skrein’s act was momentous and will likely become a kind of benchmark for actors moving forward. The next time an actor is cast as a character from a different ethnic group, will they take the same moral stand as Skrein? And if not, will there be consequences? Given Hollywood’s propensity for whitewashing, we’re going to find out sooner rather than later.