Hellboy, Ed Skrein, & Christa Campbell - Thoughts on Yellowface and Hollywood
As an Asian American, and as someone who's trying to break into the entertainment industry, I am pleased Ed Skrein did the right thing by resigning his yellowface role in the new Hellboy movie.
The decision by Executive Producer Christa Campbell and others at Lions Gate to whitewash a Japanese American character is only the latest despicable act in a long, long Hollywood tradition. Asians and Asian Americans are poorly represented in American media (and by extension, due to Hollywood's dominance, in global media as well). The fact that only Ed Skrein (who, as a B-list actor, is the least powerful player in this controversy) publicly admitted that this is wrong demonstrates that most of Hollywood is still racist against Asians.
Asians and Asian Americans (racist movie studios and fans don't see any difference) are portrayed in stereotyped roles. What's worse, even for these insulting roles, Asian actors don't even get to play most of these characters.
(The problem of prominent Hollywood "feminists" using "Equal Pay" as excuse to justify taking jobs and pay from Asian/Asian American actresses AND actors - while ignoring that they have far more privileges than average POC actor - is a horrific topic for another blog post. Instead of "mansplaining" about why they are wrong to Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, or Emma Stone, I hope they learn the error of their ways from actual intersectional feminism experts.)
A popular argument that racist fans and Hollywood types use is: "Why are you Asians so mad? It's just a movie!"
Of course, no movie, especially a big budget Hollywood film, is "just a movie".
First, yellowface robs Asian actors and actresses of roles, denying them the opportunity to make a name for themselves (not to mention pay rent). This especially hurt Asian American actors, because while Hollywood would cast a white actor (or actresses!) to play male Asian actors, they usually cast real Asian actresses to play stereotyped roles (e.g. Vietnam War era prostitutes, Geisha girls, or girlfriends for white guys).
Second, fictional portrayals of Asians/Asian Americans promote and perpetuate hateful stereotypes. There's the obvious real life consequences of hate crime against Asians/Asian Americans. Modern day Hollywood would never let a non-Jewish actor play a stereotypical "greedy Jew" character nor let a white actor play in blackface a stereotypical "black minstrel" character - but they still cast yellowface roles that generate discriminate and violence against Asians.
Less serious, but still very hurtful are the sexual discrimination against Asian men and the fetishization of Asian women. This isn't just the rant of (allegedly more women-hating than white men) heterosexual Asian men who "can't get any" - gay Asian Americans also suffer such discrimination as well. Hollywood, more than any other part of the entertainment industry, tell Americans and the world who is attractive - and who is not worthy of being a love interest. Even many Asian American women prefer to date white men than Asian American men.
In conclusion, I commend Ed Skrein for doing what many other white actors and actresses fail to do: acknowledge their privileges and actually let a real Asian American actor play an Asian American character. But this is only a small victory in a war against whitewashing that Asians and other POC have been losing for a long time. I hope that those who had more say in Hellboy's casting, such as the aforementioned Christa Campbell, would also suffer consequences for their racism - or at least publicly admit they are wrong and cast an Asian American actor to replace Ed Skrein.