The latest casting of Ed Skrein in the upcoming Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen has raised a lot of eyebrows — specifically in the Asian American community. The British actor is set to play the role of Ben Daimio, who, in the Mike Mignola comic books, is a Japanese American whose heritage has a heavy influence on his character.
Skrein took to Twitter to express his excitement in the role in the Hellboy reboot of an Asian character, whose grandmother was a Japanese Imperial assassin in World War II. True to Internet form, a backlash ignited and it wasn’t long until a flood of comments filled his feed.
One commenter said, “You’re a talented actor; why would you take away a role from an Asian colleague?” Asian actor Simu Liu (Taken, Kim’s Convenience) chimed in saying “Hey Hollywood, how many box office flops does it take for you to learn how to cast properly? #hellboy #whitewashedout” while Stephanie Sheh, an actress who does voiceover work in anime, said “Here we go again. Why Hollywood do you keep forcing me to boycott your films. #whitewash #hellboy.” Amidst the backlash, Hellboy creator Mignola chimed in saying, “Thanks and happy you’ve signed on.” Lionsgate declined to comment about the casting when contacted by Deadline.
There was less of a concern of dragging Skrein and more of focus on why something like this would happen again after Hollywood’s recent track record of casting white actors as Asian and Asian American characters — which hasn’t gone over to well. Most recently Netflix’s adaptation of the manga Death Note was under fire for whitewashing, using white actors as a replacement for characters of color. The original source material follows a Japanese teen named Light Yagami, but in the reboot, he is played by a white teen in Seattle named Light Turner, played by Nat Wolff. In addition, his love interest is named Mia Sutton who is played by Margaret Qualley. In the manga, her name is Misa Amane — who is also portrayed as Japanese.
Previous to Death Note, there has been numerous amount of “whitewashing” of Asian roles that have lit a fire under the Asian American community. Emma Stone portrayed Allison Ng in Cameron Crowe’s Aloha. With a last name like “Ng” it is obvious that the character is Asian. Her heritage in the movie is revealed as one-quarter Hawaiian, with a half-Asian father. The casting of Tilda Swinton as “The Ancient One” in Doctor Strange was appreciated for its gender-swapping but was frowned upon because the character is traditionally Asian.
Other “whitewashing” controversies that have been hovering over Hollywood include Scarlett Johansson in the starring role in the live-adaptation of Ghost in the Shell as the Major, who, in the original source material has the Japanese name Major Motoko Kusanagi. Matt Damon in The Great Wall was another source of controversy as well as the announcement of Black Sails actor Zach McGowan as the star of Ni’ihau, a film based on a true story set during WWII when Shigenori Nishikaichi, an Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service pilot, crash-landed his Zero on the eponymous Hawaiian island after participating in the attack on Pearl Harbor. McGowan will play Ben Kanahele, an island leader who saves Nishikaichi before learning his part in the attack. Kanahele is Pacific Islander and McGowan is of Jewish and Irish descent.