When Ed Skrein was cast as Ben Daimio in Neil Marshall‘s R-Rated Hellboy reboot, it was a happy day for Skrein, who posted to Twitter announcing his excitement and praising Hellboy creator Mike Mignola:
— Ed Skrein (@edskrein) August 21, 2017
But it was not a happy day for many who pointed out another instance of Hollywood casting Asian or Asian-American characters with white actors. It didn’t take long for the responses to Skrein’s tweet to pour in, and they had a common theme:
With director Lexi Alexander chiming in as well:
Exactly. There have been plenty of actors who turned down roles they felt they weren't suited for.
— Barbecue SAWSE (@AbbieHollowDays) August 22, 2017
Some recalled recent past incidents of whitewashing in Hollywood:
I apologize for the typos, I have moderate to severe dyslexia.
— GK Austin (@GK_Austin) August 22, 2017
Comic book writer, former Comics Alliance Editor-in-Chief, and former Bleeding Cool contributor Andrew Wheeler also added his voice to the objections:
Agree with this too, a big aspect of Ben is his heritage…I love the character but he ought to be played by what he's meant to be
— Gabo (@Silvermender) August 22, 2017
Mike Mignola seemed to be amongst the few who was pleased about the casting:
Thanks and happy you've signed on… see you soon
— Mike Mignola (@artofmmignola) August 21, 2017
Earning his own rebukes:
Not gonna support this movie, and I'm really disappointed in you Mike Mignola for signing off on this
— Claudia Rinofner (@polterink) August 22, 2017
While some attempted to argue in Skrein’s favor:
Yeah, since he's a Japanese American just like the character. Oh wait. 🙄
— Rachel ︽✵︽ Thorn (@rachel_thorn_en) August 22, 2017
To play a different race?
— McButts (@buttstown) August 22, 2017
— McButts (@buttstown) August 22, 2017
While others… looked on the bright side?
I Know we don't get a lot of Asian characters in comic book movies we just got Karnak it'll be amazing if amadeus cho is in the mcu or silk
— ConstantineDude (@Cosmicghostride) August 24, 2017
The thread went on like that for dozens more posts, the general consensus being that Skrein’s casting was a bad idea. And recent evidence would seem to show that it’s an unprofitable one. Whitewashing and white savior controversies have helped to tank several high profile projects recently. Ghost in the Shell was a flop at the box office after casting Scarlett Johansson in the lead. Netflix’s Death Note has already been panned by critics in large part for whitewashing, just like Marvel’s Iron Fist was panned for failing to seize the opportunity to remove the white savior aspect from the story by casting an Asian-American actor as Danny Rand. Iron Fist was apparently successful enough, though its Rotten Tomatoes rating stands at 17%, compared to the 92-98% earned by Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Daredevil. Films like The Great Wall underperformed despite making a profit following criticism of Matt Damon‘s role in the China-produced flick.
How will this controversy affect the Hellboy reboot? The franchise doesn’t have a historically huge margin of error, with the first two Hellboy films making just $99 million and $160 million in global box office totals on respective budgets of $66 million and $85 million. The last thing the movie needs is months of bad press leading up to its release, but Hollywood has been slow to adapt to changing sensibilities. Can Hellboy Redux course-correct before its planned 2018 release, or will whitewashing criticism dominate the movie’s press and social media narrative from now until then?
We’ll find out soon enough.
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