Whitewashing happens all the time in Hollywood. A fictional character who was written as one racial minority ends up getting played by a suitably famous white actor. Examples abound: I.Y. Yunioshi was played by Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In A Beautiful Mind, Jennifer Connelly played Alicia Nash, who was actually from El Salvador. The Ancient One was of Asian descent in the Doctor Strange comics, but the role went to Tilda Swinton. And while Ghost In a Shell is animated, its unmistakably Japanese roots made Scarlett Johansson a very odd choice for the lead role in the live-action adaptation. It’s one of the little ways that racism has permeated the industry, and keeps black, Asian and Latinx actors from getting more roles.
The only way whitewashing is going to change is for white actors to stop accepting roles that were written for non-white characters. And that’s exactly what happened today as Ed Skrein (Deadpool) announced that he was stepping down from a role in the upcoming Hellboy reboot that, canonically, belonged to an Asian man. As he wrote on Twitter.
— Ed Skrein (@edskrein) August 28, 2017
What’s interesting here is how classy Skrein’s write up is. Throughout, he keeps the attention on others instead of on himself. He owns up to his mistake and explains how as he learned more about the character, he understood why it was so important for it to stay true to its comic book origins. And he subtly encourages more actors to do the same.
Ed Skrein is a star, but he’s not an A-lister. He’s probably not turning down roles left and right these days. Turning down a role in a major, hotly anticipated film franchise is a real sacrifice that cost him a lot of money and a huge opportunity. It’s a big move that, hopefully, will have big repercussions for how Hollywood approaches casting in the future.