Ed Skrein backs out of playing Asian character

Ed Skrein.
Ed Skrein.

NEW YORK • British actor Ed Skrein has said that he is backing out of a role in the Hellboy reboot, after criticism over his casting to play a character portrayed as Asian in the original comic book.

Critics of the decision to cast Skrein, who is white, in the role of Major Ben Daimio said it was the latest in a string of whitewashing incidents in Hollywood, where white actors have been cast to play characters who were originally written as Asian or Asian-American.

On Monday, Skrein - known for roles in Deadpool (2016) and The Transporter Refueled (2015) - agreed. In a message posted on Twitter, he called the complaints about his casting "understandable" and said he had known that the character was "of mixed Asian heritage".

"Representation of ethnic diversity is important, especially to me as I have a mixed-heritage family," he said, without elaborating on his family background.

"It is our responsibility to make moral decisions in difficult times and to give voice to inclusivity. It is my hope that one day these discussions will become less necessary and that we can help make equal representation in the arts a reality."

His departure from the film about a heroic demon is the first time in recent years that an actor has publicly backed out of a major Hollywood movie role over concerns about whitewashing.

His decision to do so was supported by the film's star, David Harbour. He tweeted a statement on Monday, saying: "An injustice was done and will be corrected. Many thanks to @edskrein for doing what is right."

The film's producers, Larry Gordon, Lloyd Levin, Millennium Films and Lionsgate, also came out in support of Skrein's decision, calling it "unselfish" in a statement published by The Hollywood Reporter.

"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 statement said.

Hollywood has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years for what critics say is an apparent unwillingness to cast Asian actors as Asian characters.

Sometimes the roles are rewritten. In 2016's Doctor Strange, a mystic who is male and Tibetan became a female and Celtic when Tilda Swinton was cast. This year, Scarlett Johansson, her hair black, played the lead in Ghost In The Shell, a character who is Asian in the Japanese manga series it is based on. In the comics, she is called Major Motoko Kusanagi, but Johansson's character went simply by Major.

Other times, the character has remained Asian even when the actor clearly is not. Emma Stone, a blonde, played Allison Ng, a mixed- race character with Chinese and Hawaiian ancestry, in the 2015 film Aloha, a move that upset both critics and viewers.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2017, with the headline 'Ed Skrein backs out of playing Asian character'. Print Edition | Subscribe