Character is what you do when you've got a lot to lose
August 29, 2017 7:15 AM   Subscribe

Ed Skrein has had a pretty good couple of years in Hollywood, parlaying his turn as the lead villain in last year's Deadpool into a big role in the Hellboy reboot as Ben Daimio, a Japanese-American Marine officer. Ed Skrein is not Japanese-American; in fact, he is British, and of Austrian Jewish descent, which raised charges of whitewashing. After learning the background of the character and seeing the controversy, Skrein bowed out, saying on Twitter that "Representation of ethnic diversity is important... It is our responsibility to make moral decisions in difficult times and to give voice to inclusivity."
posted by Etrigan (35 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I thought this was pretty great of him. I don't want to go too far in patting him the back for doing the right thing, but I don't recall anyone else doing this. And hopefully more white actors will turn down roles they shouldn't be cast in. So good for him, and this definitely raised him quite a bit in my estimation. (I didn't care one way or the other for him before.) This has definitely made me more likely to watch a property that he's involved in.
posted by Aquifer at 7:18 AM on August 29 [8 favorites]

This is great, but why does everybody always focus on the actor/actress ? I think most of the blame for these kinds of situations rest with the studios, directors and casting directors.
posted by Pendragon at 7:21 AM on August 29 [39 favorites]

His stepping down is getting a lot of attention and I'm a bit worried it's snowballing and will encourage a backlash towards him. Everyone is once again talking about a white guy and people are getting tired of that. Maybe I'm worried for no reason. It was nice seeing all the positive replies he was getting on Twitter.
posted by ODiV at 7:24 AM on August 29

Yes, most of the blame does lie with the studios, producers, directors, et cetera. But how many high profile actors and actresses have taken whitewashed roles and said not a goddamn thing about it, or worse, made little excuses for themselves? And here's this guy who frankly I had never actually heard of before, literally forcing the studio to do right by issuing a statement declaring this a moral issue. They can't recast this role with anyone but an actor of Asian descent now without facing HUGE backlash, which is great. And a guy with very little clout made that happen, which makes the high profile stars who've taken whitewashed roles look just that much worse for never doing anything about it.
posted by palomar at 7:26 AM on August 29 [96 favorites]

Yeah, this was damned impressive. I hope other actors take his lead and speak out when they are cast for roles that are whitewashed.

(of course, I am also a grumpy puss in that I don't want a Hellboy reboot w/out del Toro and Perlman, but that's neither here nor there)
posted by Kitteh at 7:28 AM on August 29 [17 favorites]

I think most of the blame for these kinds of situations rest with the studios, directors and casting directors.

It definitely lies with Executive Producer Christa Campbell, who responded with exactly the sort of garbage everybody previously has responded with.

Producers Larry Gordon and Lloyd Levin were publicly supportive of Skrein, as was Hellboy creator Mike Mignola.
posted by maxsparber at 7:29 AM on August 29 [13 favorites]

Skrein has yet to really excite me with anything that he's done on screen, and TBH he's one of those actors who pops up in a lot of things that I watch, but I don't really recognize until I flip through the cast list on IMDB. And for good reason: He's another unmemorable generic white-guy actor (along the lines of a Sam Worthington or Garrett Hedlund or Jai Courtney) who just kind of gets cast in things because they need that type and it happens to be his turn that week.

So it is kind of nice to see an actor who is absolutely a beneficiary of generic white-guy privilege using his cultural capital to push back on that in some way. No idea if it's a calculated move or not; one might see this as Skrein's bid to distinguish himself in a crowded, beige field of interchangeable white dudes, but I choose to see this as an encouraging sign that things that changing.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:40 AM on August 29 [11 favorites]

Nice work...Francis
posted by sexyrobot at 7:47 AM on August 29 [30 favorites]

Ed Skrein is Jewish, and has credited that to his awareness of the importance of representation (he sort of obliquely references it in his post). He's a lot younger than me, so I am not sure what his experience was like growing up Jewish in England, but when I lived there as a boy I was acutely aware of how alien being Jewish made me to everyone around me — it made me an oddity in a way that even being American didn't.

Also, I believe Skrein's son is biracial. I believe him when he says that he didn't know the character was Asian-American when he was cast and wouldn't have even tried for the role if he did. He's been a good egg in all this, and while I think "not participating in racist casting choices" shouldn't be the sort of thing you give someone too much credit for, if he's not the first to do this, he's the most public, and good for him.
posted by maxsparber at 7:55 AM on August 29 [52 favorites]

I really hope this marks a turning point, where it finally becomes untenable for actors to take these whitewashed roles. If a relative nobody like Ed Skrein can do it, then Scarlett Fucking Johansson could have done it as well.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:02 AM on August 29 [26 favorites]

Also, lol, that Christa Campbell thing is a hot, hot mess. Hopefully, the fallout of this will mean that she stays far, far away from casting decisions for the rest of her career.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:04 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]

Although it is casting directors and producers who are ultimately responsible for these kinds of decisions, the actors are the public face and I think their actions tend to carry more weight in the public eye.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:20 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]

Talk about burying the lede - Perlman is not Hellboy, this can only be mediocre
posted by From Bklyn at 8:20 AM on August 29 [4 favorites]

As an outsider who knows nothing of the Hellboy milieu, I'm not seeing anything at that Dark Horse wiki link that would indicate the heritage or ethnic background of the character at all, apart from the name, which is not a good way to figure such things in real life. Is that a feature or a bug, I wonder?
posted by Western Infidels at 8:39 AM on August 29

Perlman is not Hellboy, this can only be mediocre

I'm generally pretty low on reboots on principle, and Perlman and John Hurt were really really great in the original. That said, I'm majorly interested to see what David Harbour can do. Also Ian McShane as Professor Broom is a great casting choice.
posted by Existential Dread at 8:40 AM on August 29 [3 favorites]

Put me in the camp that thinks this reboot can fuck right off. Give me the Hellboy 3 that del Toro and Perlman are on the record as wanting to do. Probably going to be as good for this guy's career to not be in the Hellboy reboot as it is for him to not take a whitewashed role.
posted by Caduceus at 8:46 AM on August 29 [9 favorites]

I'm not seeing anything at that Dark Horse wiki link that would indicate the heritage or ethnic background of the character at all

Then you might want to read the link again: canonically, his grandmother was an agent of the Japanese government in the '30s, which becomes a major plot point in Benjamin's character arc. Not necessarily one that would be addressed in this particular film, but his heritage is an important part of his story in the comics.
posted by cjelli at 9:05 AM on August 29 [8 favorites]

As an outsider who knows nothing of the Hellboy milieu, I'm not seeing anything at that Dark Horse wiki link that would indicate the heritage or ethnic background of the character at all, apart from the name, which is not a good way to figure such things in real life.

From maxsarber's link about Christa Campbell's idiotic response:

[Daimio's] grandmother is the infamous Japanese war criminal known as Crimson Lotus, who worked as a spy in New York before and during the World War II. The discovery of this relationship led to speculations about his loyalty to the United States, even as the son of a decorated war hero.

The character's Asian heritage is absolutely a plot point in the source material.

Producers Larry Gordon and Lloyd Levin were publicly supportive of Skrein, as was Hellboy creator Mike Mignola.

Variety reported Lionsgate's statement:

“Ed came to us and felt very strongly about this. We fully support his unselfish decision,” Lionsgate, the studio behind the reboot, said in a statement. “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.”
posted by mediareport at 9:07 AM on August 29 [7 favorites]

Mike Mignola is saying the right things now, but blocked Andrew Wheeler of the former Comics Alliance for speaking up earlier, so that's ... disappointing.

Anyway. Good on Ed Skrein, though it's kind of funny that I know him more now for losing roles than from his work. (He was also the first Daario on Game of Thrones, and was replaced by Michiel Huisman.)
posted by rewil at 9:14 AM on August 29 [5 favorites]

Possibly an interesting counterpoint to Skrein's casting is that of Sasha Lane as Alice Monaghan. Alice, according to The Corpse, was born in Ireland in 1959. She's about as stereotypically Irish as one could possibly be, down to the red hair and pale skin. Sasha Lane is African American and Maori, and looks nothing like the archetypal Irish woman.

Mind you, I don't really care. If she's supposed to be Irish, all I really care about is that she gets the accent right. Please let her get the accent right. Leo Varadkar is Irish, Phil Lynott was Irish, Sasha Lane can be Irish. But it seems to me like people sort of rolled past that one and got hung up on Ed. Or I just don't interact with the people who cared about that casting choice.
posted by curiousgene at 9:37 AM on August 29

Possibly an interesting counterpoint to Skrein's casting is that of Sasha Lane as Alice Monaghan.
It's not an interesting counterpoint, because there's no history of Irish red-heads being systematically excluded from representation in pop culture.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:48 AM on August 29 [51 favorites]

Well, Alice Monaghan was kidnapped and raised by fairies, and while I would like it if the film retained the Irish fairy story, that ground was also well-trod by the second Hellboy film, which drew heavily from Irish folklore and ended in Ireland on the Giant's Causeway.

Speaking as an Irish-American, there is no lack of representation of Irish people in films, so I am comfortable changing this character. There is considerably less representation of Asian-Americans in film, and a really long history of either whitewashing Asian characters or simply having white people pretend to be Asian.

Additionally, actors of Asian ancestry are underrepresented in Hollywood. I don't mind race-blind casting when a person of color is given a role that would usually go to a white person, because people of color are underrepresented.
posted by maxsparber at 9:49 AM on August 29 [23 favorites]

No, it's not an interesting counterpoint at all. There's no long history (or any at all, really) of "whiteface," or white people being discriminated against in the entertainment industry, or systematic elimination of white people's representation in film.

Or, on preview, what ArbitraryAndCapricious said.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:51 AM on August 29 [3 favorites]

No, there's no history of whiteface. And there's ample history of Asians being whitewashed, from Mickey Rooney's incredibly racist caricature in Breakfast at Tiffany's, to John Wayne playing Genghis Khan, to Emma Stone playing Allison Ng in Aloha. I understand that.

The point I apparently failed to make is that they're increasing representation by casting a Black woman as an Irishwoman, and nobody thought it worthwhile to call that out. It's laudable. They also cast a white dude as somebody who is at least partly Asian. More problematic.
posted by curiousgene at 10:03 AM on August 29

This reminds me, Mackenzie Davis recently gave an interview where she talked a little about her role as Mindy Park in The Martian, another whitewashed role, though at least in the case of The Martian, Mindy Park's ethnicity/race was never explicit in the book, even if Andy Weir has said he meant for her to be Korean-American. I thought Mackienzie Davis was straightforward and honest about the situation.
I was just having this conversation with people this morning about how people see their own races as neutral, and how that’s a problem because with all the scripts I read, I only delineate race when it says a character isn’t white, and how loud that signal is that everybody writing scripts is white, or the scripts that come across me and the person I was talking to’s desk. I got the part and I had no idea, but when the movie was coming out I started hearing things about how she was supposed to be Korean, which was confusing to me because I had read the book — Chiwetel [Ejiofor]’s character was Indian, but I don’t remember reading the other part at all. [Editor’s note: Even though author Andy Weir has stated that he meant for Mindy Park to be Korean-American, her ethnicity is not explicitly specified in the book.] I remember asking Andy at Toronto, “Was Mindy supposed to be Korean?” and he said, “Yes.” That was the first I ever heard of it.

Did you have a conversation with him then? What did he say?
It was long ago now, so I’d have a hard time giving a satisfying answer — and I don’t mean to absolve myself of any complicity because I didn’t know. But I thought a lot about it because it took me by surprise. I feel very affected by it. I want to be as non-complicit as I have control over, and there have been other parts I have not auditioned for because they were written as a Latino woman or a black woman and they’d go, “Oh, we’ll just see you,” but I feel that there’s no way to change that dynamic unless people take it upon themselves to not participate in that. But then there’s also a woman question, and a dearth of opportunity. I have thought about this before and never talked to anyone about it, and my answer is, none of the excuses that came before other than I didn’t know, but when I found out, I felt really bad.

If you knew, would your actions have been different?
I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I’m thinking about how this will look in print right now and thinking, “Oh, you should definitely say yes.” But I was 26, and I remember putting it on tape for one of my favorite directors, and it wasn’t a part of the conversation at the time. All I knew was that I was so unbelievably excited, and it was an opportunity so far beyond anything that had happened in my life so far, and felt so daunting to me. I know that I’ve made other decisions since that point in line with my personal beliefs, but at that point, it’s hard to go back and give a hypothetical, because I was also not as far along in my career. Empathy and awareness and social activism, as far as your own actions, reflect your beliefs and your commitment to what you believe in. It’s hard. I feel embarrassed I’m not just saying “yes” with no caveat at all.
posted by yasaman at 10:14 AM on August 29 [16 favorites]

Then you might want to read the link again...

Oh, cjelli, I think you misunderstand me. I think an actor of Japanese descent should play the character of Japanese descent, sure enough. It's discouraging to hear that this project went so far down this path in 2017.

Your link about the Crimson Lotus goes not just to a different page but to a different wiki. It also fails - as far as I can see - to mention that the Crimson Lotus is of Japanese descent. It doesn't even specify that she was born in Japan, which is actually a weird oversight considering the (apparently) globe-hopping nature of the family in question. There's a handy little factoid box listing "Gender" and "Species" but not "Race."

A reader may assume "The Crimson Lotus" is Japanese from the frankly appalling Orientalist name, or from the fact that she worked for the government of Japan, but the article is counting on the reader's own arguably-racist assumptions to convey that information.

Would anyone be well served by a "Race" factoid, or a similarly explicit calling out of such things, in fan media concerning fictional characters? Some fictional characters? What about real people? I honestly don't know. My question was sincere. I don't imagine that anyone in particular owes me an answer. Maybe it was a stupid question, maybe it's a derail, but burying it in scorn isn't the same as saying so.

Whatever the answer is, I imagine it's going to come up more frequently in the near future, not less. Media projects are increasingly crossovers, they're run by huge teams of people, most of whom aren't and won't be familiar with the originals. Shortcuts will be taken.
posted by Western Infidels at 10:36 AM on August 29

Your link about the Crimson Lotus goes not just to a different page but to a different wiki.

Ack, sorry. I read your comment as asking about the character's background, not about the wiki as an entity unto itself, and I was trying to answer that, rather than address any qualities of that particular wiki (which it sounds like is what you're really asking about?). My apologies if that came off as snark.
posted by cjelli at 10:46 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]

This is great, but why does everybody always focus on the actor/actress ? I think most of the blame for these kinds of situations rest with the studios, directors and casting directors.

Yeah what the hell? The casting call would have been for "generic handsome youngish white male for dark fantasy comic book adaptation" or the like, so he rocked up and got the part (presumably). Now he's the one who is left in the awkward position of first looking like a bad guy, then having to give up paid work. I'm not concerned about his bank balance as I'm sure he will be just fine, but this just stinks of shit.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:45 PM on August 29 [2 favorites]

I mean, there has been some noise directed at the casting agencies.

I don't know how much play it gets outside of AsAm media, but, for instance, the Haikus for Hotties Kickstarter every year has an option to send one copy to various casting agencies...
posted by anem0ne at 5:27 PM on August 29

And there are actors such as Kal Penn, Constance Wu, John Cho, Randall Park, Kumail Nanjiani, Alan Yang, Aziz Ansari, Daniel Dae Kim, and Arden Cho, to name a few, who have been making public statements pointing out how fucked up casting and production can be, and applying pressure where they can.

They're acting up, so, like...

Is the suggestion that I should feel bad that Ed Skrein got his hand slapped? That this white actor having to bite the bullet is some big tragedy I and other Asian Americans should feel bad for because you might not be seeing the other stuff we're doing?
posted by anem0ne at 5:32 PM on August 29 [5 favorites]

And, alternatively, because Hollywood is rather entrenched, you've been seeing a lot of Asian-Americans doing an end run around that to get their stuff viewed and published; Lily Singh, Anna Akana, and Wong Fu Productions, for instance.

So, yeah, I mean, I guess it sucks Ed Skrein got to be the big good white ally? Maybe Asian-Americans shouldn't have been yelling about the most visible part and working on a lower level, but if that didn't work would anyone have heard about it at all?

"Sucks the casting company didn't do what we wanted, but by golly we tried so hard, we just can't show you the emails..."
posted by anem0ne at 5:39 PM on August 29 [2 favorites]

I don't mean to sound combative here, just that this is but a small bit of what's been happening. May be the most visible, but then again, that's to be expected.
posted by anem0ne at 5:56 PM on August 29

I mean, Riz Ahmed wrote that article that was posted here about being cast a terrorist and he's spoken about this to the UK Parliament.
posted by anem0ne at 6:35 PM on August 29 [3 favorites]

I think that white actors in Hollywood benefit from a lot of unfairness. They have access to a lot more roles than actors of color do. So if they find out they're benefitting from whitewashing, they're obligated to act, even if that does mean taking the risk that it will hurt their reputation. (I'm not convinced that it will hurt Skrein's reputation, but I guess it could.) Because while it would be unfair to get a reputation for being difficult or unreliable or whatever, it's a lesser unfairness than the ones from which white actors benefit. And to his credit, Skrein doesn't particularly seem to be asking for sympathy.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:40 PM on August 29 [2 favorites]

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