Days of whitewashing films numbered?

By Calicia James Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/4 17:53:39

Illustrations: Xia Qing/GT

The Twittersphere has been abuzz recently with news that British actor Ed Skrein, the lead actor in The Transporter Refueled (2015), resigned from his role in the upcoming Hollywood reboot of the movie Hellboy (2018). The news came just days after he was cast as the character Ben Daimio, who is supposed to be half-Japanese. His resignation is being hailed by some as a win against the whitewashing of Hollywood films, a cause that has been championed in the US by Asian-Americans in recent years.

In stepping away from the job, Skrein posted on Twitter that he did not know the character in the original comics was of mixed Asian heritage when he accepted the role.

"It is clear that representing this character in a culturally accurate way holds significance for people, and that to neglect this responsibility would continue a worrying tendency to obscure ethnic minority stories and voices in the arts," Skrein wrote. "I feel it is important to honor and respect that. Therefore, I have decided to step down so that the role can be cast appropriately."

The post received 157,000 likes, 47,000 retweets, and 5,100 comments. Hellboy creator Mike Mignola responded by posting a tweet, "Thank you @edskrein very nicely done." The producers of Hellboy have also reportedly committed to looking to "recast the part with an actor more consistent with the character in the source material."

In the film industry, whitewashing refers to when film producers cast white actors to play characters that are non-white. Recent films that stand accused of whitewashing are the Zhang Yimou's fantasy action epic The Great Wall (2016), which casts white American actor Matt Damon in the lead - a role many thought should have gone to a Chinese; Ghost in the Shell (2017), which casts white American actor Scarlett Johansson as a Japanese cyborg; and Doctor Strange (2016), which casts white British actor Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, a character that was originally an Asian in the comic.

I remember discussing the issue of whitewashing with some of my foreign friends in China when The Great Wall came out. One of the biggest arguments for such a move on the part of producers is that big names are a must for films to be economically viable. But according to some Western media, the numbers don't add up, as films like The Great Wall and Ghost in the Shell performed below expectations at the box office.

Skrein's decision could change the way Hollywood casts actors. But the question remains, is what producers claim true? Are there Asians actors with the chops to take on big roles?

The simple answer is yes. Chinese actor Fan Bingbing acted in Iron Man 3 (2013) and X-Men Days of Future Past (2014). Transformers Age of Extinction (2014) cast Li Bingbing, Rogue One (2016) had Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang, and xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (2017) cast super famous young Chinese actor Wu Yifan. All of them are talented actors with millions of followers in China alone.

I also googled "top Asian-American actors," and IMDb's Top 40 Asian Actors Under 40 to Watch for in Hollywood came up. Not that looks are the only thing that matters, but I would certainly pay to go see one of these handsome men on the big screen.

This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.


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