9:20 pm EDT, August 28, 2017

Ed Skrein leaves ‘Hellboy,’ sets precedent for actors in whitewashed roles

Actor Ed Skrein has withdrawn from the role of Major Ben Daimio in the upcoming Hellboy reboot, with a gracious Twitter post explaining why.

Skrein was recently cast in the reboot, which stars Stranger Things‘ David Harbour as the titular Hellboy. But the casting announcement was greeted with criticism from many in the fan community, who felt that Daimio’s Japanese-American identity should be represented in the film.

Today, Ed Skrein not only addressed the controversy, but took an impressive step toward promoting racial equality in Hollywood: He stepped down from Hellboy “so the role can be cast appropriately.”

Skrein posted a gracious statement on Twitter announcing his decision, and expressing his support for increased diversity in filmmaking.

“I accepted the role unaware that [Ben Daimio] in the original comics was of mixed Asian heritage,” he wrote, adding that his decision rested on a desire to “do what I feel is right.”

“It is clear that representing this character in a culturally accurate way holds significance for people,” Skrein said, “and that to neglect this responsibility would continue a worrying tendency to obscure ethnic minority stories and voice in the Arts.”

Where many actors would — and have — demurred from addressing the subject directly, Skrein chose to tackle Hollywood’s ugly history of whitewashing characters of color head on.

“Representation of ethnic diversity is important, especially to me as I have a mixed heritage family,” the actor continued. “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.

“I am sad to leave Hellboy,” he concluded, “But if this decision brings us closer to that day, it is worth it. I hope it makes a difference.”

The entertainment industry has long struggled with representation of minorities, and every step forward seems plagued with regression. Just this year, Scarlett Johansson drew intense criticism for taking on the role of Motoko Kusanagi in the live-action version of Ghost in the Shell. Studios and actors usually offer an awkward acknowledgment of whitewashing controversies while defending their decisions, and the cycle begins again soon, the needle of change barely having moved.

Ed Skrein’s decision to leave Hellboy, and his eloquent explanation, should stand as an example of the power actors command in the casting marketplace. If studios and casting directors fail, white actors can and should stand against regressive casting choices and support diverse casting. While not an easy decision, white actors are uniquely situated to promote long-needed, genuine change.

David Harbour agrees, chiming in on Twitter that he was grateful for the resolution of the injustice.

What are your thoughts on Ed Skrein’s decision to leave ‘Hellboy’?

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