Actor Ed Skrein said Monday that he was backing out of a role in the forthcoming movie “Hellboy” after public 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 Maj. 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 agreed.
In a message posted to Twitter on Monday afternoon, Skrein called the complaints about his casting “understandable” and said he had not 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,” Skrein 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.”
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Skrein’s departure from “Hellboy,” a 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, who tweeted a statement on Monday.
“An injustice was done and will be corrected,” Harbour wrote on Twitter. “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.
Messages left with both production companies on Monday afternoon were not immediately returned.
“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 to play 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 was Asian in the Japanese manga series it was based on. In the comics she was called Maj. 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 Native Hawaiian ancestry, in the 2015 film “Aloha,” a move that upset both critics and viewers.
The writer and director, Cameron Crowe, said on his personal blog that the character was based on an actual mixed-race, part-Hawaiian redhead, but apologized nonetheless. “I have heard your words and your disappointment, and I offer you a heartfelt apology to all who felt this was an odd or misguided casting choice,” he wrote.