The controversy over “whitewashing” in Lionsgate’s reboot of the “Hellboy” franchise took an unexpected term when British actor Ed Skrein, who had been cast as Major Ben Daimio in “Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen,” withdrew from the project.
Whitewashing refers to white actors playing characters originally conceived as Asian. In this case, Daimio, an employee of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, was a Japanese American ex-Marine in the “Hellboy” comic book series. Complaints have been raised by Media Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) and other organizations with regard to other comic book adaptations, including “Ghost in the Shell,” which starred Scarlett Johansson.
MANAA Preisdent Robert Chan told The Los Angeles Daily News last week, “It’s frustrating. I think the casting in ‘Hellboy’ is more of the same. You’re taking an Asian character and casting a non-Asian into the role.”
Guy Aoki, founding president of MANAA, added, “There’s a cultural and racial tie-in to the Daimio character where his grandmother was supposed to be a Japanese imperial assassin during World War II. It just doesn’t make sense to lose that cultural context.”
“Angry Asian Man” blogger Phil Yu said last week, “We’ve heard it all before. Stop. You can’t tell me this guy is the box office draw. He is not. Nobody, except Ed Skrein’s mom, is going to see ‘Hellboy; because they saw Ed Skrein’s name in the billing block.
“Don’t tell me that you couldn’t find Asian American actors for this role (if you bothered at all). Off the top of my head, I can name at least a dozen guys — actors with substantial credits — who could kick ass as Ben Daimio.”
Skrein, whose credits include “Game of Thrones” and “Deadpool,” said in a statement on Monday, “Last week it was announced that I would be playing Major Ben Daimio in the upcoming ‘Hellboy’ reboot. 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.
“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. I feel it is important to honour and respect that. Therefore I have decided to step down so the role can be cast appropriately.
“Representation of ethnic diversity is important, especially to me as I have a mixed-heritage family. It is our responsibility to make moral decisions in difficult times and to give voice to inclusivity. It is my hope that one day discussions will become less necessary and that we can help make equal representation in the arts a reality.
“I am sad to leave ‘Hellboy’ but if this decision brings us closer to that day, it is worth it. I hope it makes a difference.”
Aoki had the following response on Wednesday: “We want to thank Ed Skrein for bowing out of ‘Rise of the Blood Queen’ and asserting that the part of Major Ben Daimio should be played by an Asian American, as was the character in the comic book series ‘Hellboy.’ Hopefully, this will mark a turning point in the ever-increasing trend of non-Asian actors taking parts originally written for Asians.
“Many bigger-name actors who can afford to turn down roles like Scarlett Johansson (‘Ghost in the Shell’), Tilda Swinton (‘Dr. Strange’) and Emma Stone (‘Aloha’) looked the other way and took their paychecks, even though it hurt their reputations.
“Megan Colligan, Paramount president of worldwide distribution and marketing, admitted that ‘Ghost,’ which cost $110 million to make and only took in $40 million domestically and $170 worldwide (still losing money), was done in by the whitewashing controversy as more people than usual googled the film before deciding to see it and kept coming across the issue in movie reviews, social media, and online articles. Despite Johansson being one of the highest-paid actresses in the business, the masses decided to stay home.
“Previously, Christa Campbell, the executive producer of the upcoming ‘Hellboy’ film, had issued a hostile tweet rationalizing the casting by saying, ‘Someone comes and does a great audition to get the role. Stop projecting your own shit onto us. We are all one. We don’t see colours or race.’ Mike Mignola, creator and artist of ‘Hellboy,’ had praised the casting as well.
“Now, Skrein’s stance has forced Hellboy producers Larry Gordon, Lloyd Levin, Millennium and Lionsgate to say they will now do what they should’ve done in the first place, find an Asian American actor to play the part. And Mignola tweeted ‘very nicely done,’ which was laughable.
“In the future, we think actors should research the parts they’re asked to play, especially if they’re based on original source material. And if they’re offered a role that would take away an opportunity from a member of a minority group that barely gets the chance to be represented on the big screen, they should decline the part and suggest they get someone from that community who would be more appropriate.
“It would avoid embarrassment for the project because once the issue of whitewashing is raised, people don’t forget or forgive. And the project is often fatally tarnished. ‘Rise of the Blood Queen’ may already be.”
Lionsgate said in a statement, “Ed came to us and felt very strongly about this. We fully support his 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.”
The cast includes Milla Jovovich as Nimue the Blood Queen, David Harbour as Hellboy, Ian McShane as Professor Broom and Sasha Lane as Alice Monaghan.
Originally appearing in Dark Horse Comics’ “B.P.R.D.: The Dead #1” in 2004, Daimio was the leader of a squad of Marines assigned to a rescue mission in the Bolivian jungle to save nuns apparently captured by a fundamentalist group called the True Path, which had not engaged in violence before. The mission went awry when the true culprits, a native jaguar cult who murdered the nuns, attacked the group. A shapeless entity slaughtered them until only Daimio remained, with severe scars. He saw visions of a gigantic jaguar-like spirit before dying from his injuries.
Daimio’s corpse was recovered and scheduled for autopsy, but he returned to life just prior to the procedure. After a brief period of recovery, he was transferred to the Pentagon’s Special Ops and began acting as an informal consultant to the BPRD.
Daimio still displays serious facial trauma from the events that killed him, including a gaping tear in his left cheek and missing left ear. He began undergoing medical treatments linked to a bizarre, monkey-like specimen in a jar that had once belonged to his grandmother, an imperial Japanese agent known as the Crimson Lotus. The embalmed creature appears identical to one Daimio saw in a vision just before his death. It’s later revealed that he can turn into a jaguar-like creature
It remains to be seen how much of Daimio’s back story will be incorporated into the film.