When Ed Skrein was cast as the former marine, back from the dead, were-jaguar Asian-American B.P.R.D. agent Ben Daimio, there was a small problem. He wasn’t Asian-American. In fact, the actor from Deadpool and Game of Thrones is Caucasian and British. There was immediate backlash to the casting from the fans of the comic books.
Hollywood has long had a reputation for replacing Asian characters with white, mainstream characters. With the adaptation of so many anime and manga stories lately, the trend has been more noticeable. Considerable controversy surrounded casting Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Machine. She was the synthetic body run by the brain of a dead Japanese woman. Of course, there’s no reason a cyborg body couldn’t appear to be of whatever race one chooses. Tilda Swinton’s role in Dr. Strange was historically an Asian male. Death Note, the live action version of the popular Manga series, was set in Seattle. None of the principals were Asian. Making Death Note as a cross cultural adaptation stripped it of its Japanese roots but also failed to make it recognizably American.
Ed Skrein gave up the role on Hellboy after the backlash. This is what he tweeted about it.
There has been a positive response to Skrein’s decision, and he is supported by the producers of Hellboy. Millennium, Lionsgate, and producers Lloyd Levin and Larry Gordon released a statement Monday in support of Skrein’s decision: “Ed came to us and felt very strongly about this. We fully support his unselfish decision. 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.”
It is important in the comic books that Daimio is Japanese American. There are story lines involving a Japanese grandparent who was a spy during WWII. The name, Daimio, is obviously taken from the Japanese word for a feudal lord, daimyo. Besides casting someone who is not Asian for one of a very small number of roles that calls specifically for someone Japanese American, it interferes with the story.
Here’s hoping that Skrein is rewarded for his integrity and lands some good roles soon.