Ed Skrein isn’t some big A-List actor. He’s best known as the bad guy from Deadpool, or maybe as the first, hotter Daario Naharis from Game of Thrones.
But he just made a major power move that world famous actors like Tilda Swinton and Scarlett Johansson haven’t dared to do, earning serious praise in the process.
To do that, though, Ed had to drop out of a major career opportunity.
For years, millions of fans have been frustrated that studios haven’t allowed Guillermo del Toro to create any more Hellboy films.
The cult favorite film series starring Ron Pearlman had two films, but the third always seemed out of reach.
Finally, it was announced — to everyone’s collective disappointment — that Guillermo del Toro would not get to continue that series.
Fans responded by protesting it online.
Guillermo responded, it seems, by creating The Shape of Water, a film that fans were quick to point out strongly resembles a (legally distinct) origin story for favored Hellboy character, Abe Sapien.
(Did you see the trailer about the mute girl who wnats to bang something that looks like the creature from the Black Lagoon? That’s the one)
However, it was then announced that they were going to reboot the Hellboy trilogy, which — despite a lack of involvement by either Guillermo or Pearlman, was met with excitement for fans of the original films and also of the comics that preceded them.
The first real bit of bad news about these films came when Ed Skrein was cast. He’s great, but … he was cast as a character named Ben Daimio.
Ed Skrein is white.
The character of Ben Daimio is a Japanese-American.
(In fact, if I remember my teenage weeaboo phase correctly, “daimio” phonetically sounds like the word for a feudal-era Japanese lord, though don’t quote me on that)
Whitewashing in Hollywood should be a thing of the past, but recently it has seemed to be out of control.
From Tilda Swinton being cast as the Tibetan character of The Ancient One in Doctor Strange to Scarlett Johansson playing the decidedly Japanese protagonist of Ghost in the Shell (which flopped, at least), there seems to be no end to white actors taking representation from people of color.
(And the less said about that abysmal and whitewashed Death Note movie, the better)
Some of the responses to the “Oscars So White” controversy said that maybe people of color just weren’t as good.
That’s … kind of absurd, but we’d ask those people how exactly actors of color can demonstrate their acting skills when they’re not even given the opportunity to portray people of color on screen.
More importantly, there are the fans who mourn losing major representation on the big screen.
Some people can’t relate, but those are the people who grew up always being able to see someone not unlike themselves on screen. They’ve never faced having their identities erased.
Scarlett Johansson, despite making so much money that she could turn down any job, has never seemed to find a problem taking jobs that could or should have gone to someone else.
Ed Skrein, however, is cut from a different cloth.
Ed Skrein took to social media to publicly step down for the role after the backlash.
For one thing, he says that he wasn’t initially aware of the character’s race.
(Remember, the titular character in this franchise is named “Hellboy,” so if you don’t recognize “Daimio” as a Japanese word or name and you’re not already a fan of the series, you just wouldn’t know. We don’t even recall Ben Daimio making it into either of the two original films)
“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.”
It’s so good that he’s calling this out so publicly.
“I feel it is important to honor and respect that.”
He is so right.
And he adds a personal note.
“Representation of ethnic diversity is important, especially to me as I have a mixed heritage family.”
Part of his background is Jewish Austrian.
Ultimately, we hope that this will be a net gain for Ed Skrein.
The money and acclaim that he might have garnered for taking on this role will hopefully pale in comparison to what he gains in positive press coverage.
A friend of mine pointed out last night that every time that someone talks about whitewashing for the next few years, they’ll point to Ed Skrein by name as the perfect counterexample to, say, Scarlett Johansson.
And he’s earned no shortage of praise, from fans to other actors.
(Scarlett, in the mean time, has become something of a joke; Rahul Kohli of iZombie once joked that ScarJo was originally cast to play his role)
Possibly the best part of all of this is that the producers behind the new Hellboy trilogy say that they are taking this seriously. We hope to see them cast more appropriately in the future.