British actor Ed Skrein has pulled out of a role in the upcoming Hellboy reboot after a backlash because he was cast as a character of Asian heritage.
The Deadpool star, 34, said he did not know the race of Major Ben Daimio when he accepted the part in the comic book adaptation.
He said he was stepping down “so the role can be cast appropriately”.
The initial casting prompted accusations of Hollywood “whitewashing” following other recent rows.
Skrein noted in a statement posted to his 34,000 Twitter followers that there had been “intense conversation and understandable upset” since he was cast in the film as the Japanese-American character.
“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,” he said.
The move won immediate praise from many on social media, including from people who were not previously fans.
“Thank you for doing this. You just gained a follower and I’ll definitely check out the next thing you work on,” one person said.
Who is Ed Skrein?
Before becoming the only actor to be more famous for turning down a role than accepting one, the Londoner was best-known for his movie breakthrough as the villain Ajax in Deadpool.
He also played the original Daario Naharis in season three of Game of Thrones.
His other films include The Transporter Refueled, replacing Jason Statham in the franchise, plus Ill Manors and Kill Your Friends.
Hollywood whitewashing – a brief history
Using white actors to play characters of a different ethnic origin has been going on for decades – such as Mickey Rooney playing Mr Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961 and Lawrence Olivier blacking up for 1965’s Othello.
The debate has intensified in recent years. Jake Gyllenhaal played the title role in 2010’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Johnny Depp was the Native American Tonto in 2013’s The Lone Ranger.
Christian Bale played Moses in 2014’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, while there was criticism of 2016’s Gods of Egypt, in which stars like Gerard Butler played Egyptian deities.
Earlier this year, an uproar met Scarlett Johansson’s Ghost in the Shell, a live action remake of a Japanese manga comic.
And there was a similar outcry when Tom Hardy was rumoured to be playing Jafar in Guy Ritchie’s new Aladdin – but, perhaps as a result of the criticism, that role eventually went to Dutch-Tunisian actor Marwan Kenzari.
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Skrein’s decision marks the first time a white actor has left a high-profile film project after receiving criticism, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The film’s producers – Larry Gordon, Lloyd Levin, Millennium and Lionsgate – said in a statement that they supported his decision.
“Ed came to us and felt very strongly about this. We fully support his unselfish decision,” the statement, as quoted by The Hollywood Reporter, said.
“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.”
Hellboy is due to be released next year.
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