One Small Step for Ed Skrein, One Giant Step to End White-Washing

I have written before on white-washing in Hollywood films. I actually started a whole freaking podcast because the trend was rising with no end in sight. Roles were passed out, one by one, that participated in Asian-American erasure: Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange, Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, Finn Jones in Iron Fist. Matt Damon did it, on and on and on.

It got bad enough that at one point comedy producer Will Choi made a shirt. In the As-Am community, we just call this “The Shirt.”

What surprises me the most is not just the flagrant amount of human disrespect, the blatant cultural appropriation, or furthermore, the upholding of white supremacy that occurs when the practice of white-washing/race-bending/Asian erasure takes place.

No, what surprises me the most is that this is all happening because casting a white actor in a POC role will theoretically make more money. Except it has done no such thing. One by one, these movies have fallen to artistic ruin and financial debts. Ghost in the Shell barely made its budget back. Iron Fist is critically lauded as the most annoying of The Defenders, and Death Note has (arguably) hurt Netflix’s reputation for producing original content. It’s almost like these properties would rather lose money than cast an Asian…

So just when I thought maybe, just maybe Hollywood would get it together, Ed Skrein was cast as Ben Daimo. Daimo is a Japanese-American character who will be featured in the 2018 reboot of Hellboy. I was tired, to be honest. Too tired to fight on social media about it. Too tired to record a podcast episode. Even too tired to write a post about it here on Nerdophiles.

Then something magical happened.

Ed Skrein had the cajones to step down from the role. I was sitting at a Lady Gaga concert when I saw the post and my jaw literally dropped. This is what actors should be doing! They should not email Margaret Cho for an excuse and they shouldn’t double down on their white feminism. All Emma Stone offered was a half-hearted apology for her role in Aloha. This is what they need to do, take note, Zach McGowan!

Look, I get it. I was an actor for 10 years. Roles are hard to come by. Roles for women are even harder. But someone like ScarJo, Emma Stone, or Matt Damon doesn’t need these roles.  If anything, these roles have hurt them (even if only in the eyes of millions and millions of Asian-Americans).

But directors/producers/old white film guys are rarely, if ever, going to be the ones to stand up for the minority actor. What Ed Skrein did took guts and he has my respect. Maybe he saw the way those other films flopped; maybe he saw how relentlessly ridiculed those actors were; maybe he just didn’t want to wind up on The Shirt. 

Or maybe deep down he’s just a good guy who gets it. Ed has “mixed heritage;” Skrein is half-Jewish, according to Wikipedia. Skrein isn’t even at the height of his career, like ScarJo, Emma, or Matt were. So Skrein turning down this role is big. Very big. He’s received kudos from Hollywood’s finest left and right. He’s even received praise from the Hellboy comic creator Mike Mignola.  I’m really hoping John Cho and Riz Ahmed team up with him to form some hot superhero team. #TeamFrancis.

Obviously, this role should have never gone to Ed in the first place, and it’s worth remembering that it took a lot of hubbub for him to step down. Why didn’t he just turn it down in the first place? Who thought this was a good idea? We’ll probably never know the answers to those questions. But Ed had certainly made a smart career move side-stepping this whole situation.

What could have turned into a career of questions about playing a Japanese-American has instead let him become an Internet darling. (And if you think that it wouldn’t have been a big deal if he’d stayed in the role, trust me. Asian-Americans have a long memory. Hence why we haven’t forgotten Emma Stone, ScarJo, Marlon Brando, Katherine Hepburn, or Mickey Rooney.) 

What I hope more than anything is that Ed Skrein’s actions will show actors how much power they have to say no, and that it will show casting directors that white ain’t always the right way to go. Most of all, I hope to the Old Gods and the New that this will be the beginning of the end of white-washing forever. Either way, I’m grateful for Ed Skrein for being the first to take this step.