Ed Skrein Turns Down a Mixed-Race Role

Posted on September 1, 2017 at 11:54 pm

Ed Skrein (the bad guy in “Deadpool”) agreed to play Ben Daimio in the new “Hellboy” movie. But when he found out that the character is half Asian he turned down the role, saying he did not think it was appropriate for him to take the part. “Representation of ethnic diversity is important, especially to me as I have a mixed heritage family. It is our responsibility to make moral decisions in difficult times and to give voice to inclusivity. It is my hope that one day these discussions will become less necessary and that we can help make equal representation in the Arts a reality,” he wrote.

On one hand, there is the view that any actor should be able to play any part. But given the extreme disparity in the treatment of minority actors, that should not apply until as many non-white, female, GLBTIA, and disabled actors are being cast in any part that does not specifically rely on being a cis-gender white male. We salute Skrien for taking this position and hope it shames the producers into hiring an actor whose ethnicity is consistent with the character he is playing.

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Actors Race and Diversity

White Actors Cast In “The Gods of Egypt”

Posted on April 6, 2014 at 10:10 pm

I’m in favor of race-blind casting except when race is a part of the story.  And that seems to be the case in a $450 million epic film called “The Gods of Egypt” that takes place in Egypt.  But instead of casting people of Middle Eastern ethnicity, the parts of the gods Set (Gerard Butler) , Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldeu), and Ra (Geoffrey Rush) plus Brenton Thwaites as a “common thief” are played by European white actors.  As Rebecca Cusey wrote about the casting in “Noah,” it would be nice to see the actors reflect the breadth and diversity of humanity.

Scott Jordan Harris wrote about a related issue on rogerebert.com, casting non-disabled actors to play disabled characters.

Consider “Glee”, a TV show unmistakably self-satisfied with its inclusiveness. Its makers would never have considered having Rachel, the female lead, played by a man in drag. They would not have considered having Mercedes, the most prominent black character, played by a white actress in blackface. But when they cast Artie, the main disabled character, they chose an able-bodied actor and had him sit in a wheelchair and ape the appearance of a disabled person….the most important reason for casting disabled actors as disabled characters does not concern how films will be viewed in the future. It concerns how they are made now. Every time an able-bodied actor plays a disabled character it makes it harder for disabled actors to work.  Indeed, if we are okay with disabled roles being played by able-bodied actors, we are okay with disabled actors being prevented from acting at all. Able-bodied actors can play able-bodied roles. Disabled actors cannot. If disabled actors cannot play disabled roles, they cannot play any roles at all—and they are excluded from film altogether.




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Actors Commentary Disabilities and Different Abilities Race and Diversity

Should White Actors Play Non-White Characters?

Posted on May 25, 2010 at 3:58 pm

The LA Times writes about what writer Chris Lee calls a “whitewash,” with all major parts in two high-budget, high-profile films set in the Mideast played by Caucasian performers.

None of its principle cast members are of Iranian, Middle Eastern or Muslim descent. And playing Dastan, the hero and titular heir to the Persian throne in the $200-million tent-pole film, is none other than Hancock Park’s own Swedish-Jewish-American prince, Jake Gyllenhaal.

In addition to Gyllenhaal and British actress Gemma Arterton’s portrayal of Iranian characters in the swords-and-sandals action epic “Prince of Persia,” Paramount has come under attack for its live-action adaptation of the Nickelodeon animated series ” Avatar: The Last Airbender.” Directed by “Sixth Sense” auteur M. Night Shyamalan, “The Last Airbender” (as the movie is called to distinguish it from a certain James Cameron-directed 3-D blockbuster) has enraged some of the show’s aficionados by casting white actors in three of four principal roles — characters that fans of the original property insist are Asian and Native American.

And with just weeks until the movie’s July 2 release — after a year-and-a-half-long letter-writing campaign to the film’s producers and a correspondence with Paramount President Adam Goodman to underscore the importance of casting Asian actors in designated Asian roles — members of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans and an organization called Racebending are urging fans to boycott “Airbender.”

Hollywood has a long, disgraceful history of casting actors in roles of other races. Marlon Brando, Alec Guinness, and Mickey Rooney played Japanese men and Katherine Hepburn and John Wayne played Chinese characters. Apparently believing that any non-American could play any non-white part, Mexican-born Ricardo Montalban played a Native American and a Japanese man and Puerto Rican Rita Moreno played a Thai character. This goes back a long way — centuries of white actors have played Othello in blackface. And of course in Shakespeare’s day, all parts we played by men and boys, which is one reason he created female characters who disguised themselves as men. It goes back to the earliest movies as well. One of the first superstars was Rudolph Valentino, who appeared as “The Sheik.” Peter Lorre played detective Mr. Moto and Warner Oland played detective Charlie Chan.
On one hand, I am in favor of race- and gender- and disability-blind) casting and would like to see more parts opened up to a wider range of actors. I disagree with a recent piece in Newsweek that has provoked a lot of controversy because it suggested that openly gay actors could not be believable as heterosexual romantic lead characters. But the purpose of a more open approach to casting should be to be more inclusive, not less. Part of what made the animated series that inspired “The Last Airbender” popular was its Asian characters and its themes based on East Asian fables and animation styles. Its director, Shyamalan, is an American of Indian heritage. Yet apparently even he must be swayed by Hollywood prejudice that assumes that despite the world market for films, audiences will be more likely to pay to see white stars.

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Commentary Understanding Media and Pop Culture
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