Ed Skrein recently released a statement where he explained why he left the Hellboy Cast. He was set to play the role of Ben Damio, a Japanese/American character. Should more actors in Hollywood have the same morals and prevent further whitewashing in films?
In the movie industry, whitewashing is a term used a lot. It’s when productions overlook a person of colour for a role that’s based on their race and use a white actor instead. This behaviour has been happening for years.
When you’re hungover Sunday afternoon watching a Cowboys and Indians Western, isn’t it weird that it’s an all white cast although 1/4 Cowboys were black? Even the ‘Indians’ were white actors painting their skin to portray Native-American characters. Maybe Native-Americans weren’t offered roles in these movies? Perhaps, they didn’t feel like playing the villains for people who massacred them for their entertainment? We might never know, but we do actually know. What matters is nothing like that happens today because we’ve progressed – haven’t we?
No, because in 2017 what happens is they just remove the characters altogether. This year alone we’ve had The Beguiled, Death Note and most notable of all Ghost In The Shell shamelessly whitewashing lead roles for people of colour. And right up until recently, Hellboy had proudly joined in on the fun with Ed Skrein signing on to play Japanese/American Ben Damio; that’s until Ed Skrein said:
Hellboy will likely be a big deal. It’s got a talented cast, a director who has some solid credits and will probably deliver a great take on the Hellboy property. Ed Skrein’s most notable credits include Deadpool and the lead in The Transporter reboot. He’s hardly hurting for work – as he’s currently filming James Cameron’s long-gestating Battle Angel Alita. It’s very likely to be a huge film for him, but he’s not the biggest actor on the planet. This role would’ve helped his career, but he’s the first actor to ignore this and put morals before his bank balance.
So what sets Skrein apart from the other actors that have taken whitewashed roles? Integrity’s a word; greed is another. Whatever you call it, it doesn’t happen often. Here are well-known actors almost defending Hollywood whitewashing films:
When upholding the whitewashing of a mixed raced character and the complete removal of an enslaved maid from her movie ‘The Beguiled,’ she said:
“I didn’t want to brush over such an important topic in a light way. Young girls watch my films, and this was not the depiction of an African-American character I would want to show them.”
My translation: I liked the original story, but what I felt it needed even more white people and honestly, slavery cinema is so 2012.
On her controversial casting in Ghost In The Shell:
‘I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person. Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive. Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity. Certainly, I feel the enormous pressure of that—the weight of such a big property on my shoulders.’
My Translation: Fuck your feelings, I got paid.
On the whitewashing in Death Note:
‘You’re in a different country, you’re in a different kind of environment, and you’re trying to also summarize a sprawling series into a two-hour-long film.’
Death Note is about a kid who kills people by writing their names in a book. I’m no Hollywood scribe, but that doesn’t seem too impossible to translate. The American characters even have Japanese names!
The guys who starred in Atlanta and Get Out even makes a point of saying the Death Note isn’t whitewashing. Firstly, because he is black. Secondly, because making the entire cast Japanese in America wouldn’t accurately reflect the demographics of America.
My Translation: Firstly, it’s incredibly disappointing to see an up and coming black actor defend whitewashing simply because of a cheque.
Secondly, this film is about a magic book that murders people; you can’t pick and choose where ‘reality‘ comes in.
Finally, no one is saying every time an adoption of anime is made the entire cast must be Japanese. No, we’re saying when westernising a Japanese property fill it with all the white actors you want, but leave some of the lead roles to Japanese American actors. For once stop relegating asian actors to the computer geek or sidekick. What does it say if the stories are universal, but the people aren’t. You’re saying a fascinating murder book is perfectly believable but a Japanese face is a bridge too far.
Maybe they’re implying that audiences are racist and will boycott any movie that doesn’t have a white male lead. Don’t get it twisted; people did try to boycott a movie, but it was Star Wars. It’s not like they needed an established actor for the Death Note lead-role. Name the Death Note lead off the top of your head. And no, his name isn’t the Guy on the poster with Cara Delevinge’s eyebrows.
Look at Guardians Of The Galaxy. Yeah, we loved him in Parks & Rec, but Chris Pratt was hardly a box office draw before Guardians. Analysts predicted that GOTG would be Marvel’s first flop, but Pratt did a fantastic job. Would it be so hard to do the same with Death Note? It would’ve been a perfect opportunity to cast a young up and coming/unknown Japanese actor and pad the cast out with better-known support.
The point is Hollywood and the actors in these roles always come out with some press-prepared bullshit about honouring the role; when they’re just honouring a cheque.
Ed Skrein has set a precedent, he is willing to put his money where his mouth is and stand by his morals. Maybe it was a small role, maybe it actually conflicted with a larger role, we may never know. No matter how fancily worded the press release is, we’ll all know it’s not attraction to the character, it’s not because they “don’t see colour,” it’s greed and nothing more.