One of the biggest ongoing controversies in the entertainment industry is the centuries-old practice of hiring white actors to play non-white roles. The practice is called “whitewashing” and I think we can all agree that it’s long since time we moved past it, as an industry and as a culture.
Even so, it still happens all the time. This year’s Ghost in the Shell remake had to twist the plot into knots in order to cast Scarlett Johansson as a Japanese character, and last year’s Doctor Strange cast British actor Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One, a character who is traditionally portrayed in the comics as Tibetan. Whether or not the actors were effective in those roles, their casting prevented actors of color from getting high-profile work in the entertainment industry, in roles that specifically had to be changed in order to take those roles away from them.
And just recently the controversy emerged again when Ed Skrein, who played the supervillain Francis in Deadpool, was cast as the Japanese-American character Major Ben Daimio in the upcoming Hellboy reboot, Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen. Here we go again, right?
But rather than hold his ground and take the high-profile character in a high-profile project, Ed Skrein has decided to turn down the role – which he claims he did not know was for a character of mixed heritage when he was originally hired – and make room for another actor.
— Ed Skrein (@edskrein) August 28, 2017
It’s frustrating that this situation emerged in the first place but it’s heartening, at least, that Ed Skrein, when approached with a legitimate concern, has acted in the best interests of others and rejected the role. Not only that, but by publicly acknowledging that his casting was a mistake in the first place, he may have put the Hellboy filmmakers and studio into a position where they cannot whitewash the role in the next round of casting, without looking even worse than they did the first time.
We still have a long way to go, but every single step matters.
Photo: Bruno Calvo © 2014 – EUROPACORP – TF1 FILMS PRODUCTION
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on Canceled Too Soon and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.