This past weekend marked an auspicious holiday for fans of Dark Horse comics. Happy belated Hellboy Day, to all who love the smokin’ half-demon! With just a couple weeks until Neil Marshall’s rebooted “Hellboy” hits theaters, excitement is building for lead actor David Harbour’s take on the wisecracking monster-turned-paranormal-superhero. But how does this Filipina “Hellboy” fan feel about the 2017 whitewashing controversy that almost destroyed the film? Let’s talk “Hellboy,” Benjamin Daimio, and Daniel Dae Kim.
The “Hellboy” Reboot: Some Things Old, Some Things New
Here’s what we know about the “Hellboy” reboot. Directed by Marshall and starring Harbour, this film originally started as a third sequel to “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” which never got off the ground as original director Guillermo del Toro wasn’t offered the same writer/director deal as he’d had for the previous films; Ron Perlman, the first actor to play Hellboy, refused to do it without del Toro. The decision was eventually made to reboot the series with a new cast, with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola working on early versions of the script and advising the filmmakers.
The film has an R-rating, and will reportedly stay closer to its comic book origins than previous films. Hellboy will battle the mysterious Nimue the Blood Queen, played by Milla Jovovich (“Resident Evil” franchise), with Ian McShane playing Hellboy’s professor father. Rounding out the cast are Sasha Lane (“American Honey”), Daniel Dae Kim (“The Good Doctor”), Thomas Haden Church (“Sideways”), Penelope Mitchell (“Curse of Downers Grove”), Sophie Okonedo (“Hotel Rwanda”) and more.
In the beginning, I was hyped about another “Hellboy” movie. I’d loved Perlman’s Hellboy, and had missed the cat-loving, misunderstood superhero. But then I learned about Ben Daimio, and the white actor they’d (originally) chosen to play him.
The Whitewashing Controversy That Almost Killed “Hellboy” Back In 2017
Back in 2017, news broke that white actor Ed Skrein (“Deadpool”) was cast to play Japanese American Major Benjamin Daimio, a formerly dead soldier who can transform into a were-jaguar-like creature. Fans of color were rightfully angry that one of the only canonically Asian comic book characters around was going to be whitewashed, and, to his credit, Skrein stepped down with a thoughtful statement on Twitter. All eyes then turned to Kim, an established action star and actor of Asian descent, who was quickly hired to replace him.
Lloyd Levin, one of the “Hellboy” producers, recently addressed the film’s controversy in an interview with Collider that, if anything, dredged up the original concerns I had with the film’s bigwigs. While acknowledging they’d felt they “made a mistake” by casting Skrein, he attempted to explain what had happened:
“When we started talking about this and we started talking about Daimio, it was years ago and we had already established a story where Daimio was… You know, the story takes place in the U.K. so we were creating Daimio as giving him an English background and we lost track of who he was in the comic books and we made a mistake… Ed was very very gracious and it was something we all felt we wanted to correct.”
It’s good and all that everyone’s acknowledging how badly they messed up. But how the hell do you forget Daimio is Asian? How few Asian folks were involved in this film, behind the scenes, for this to happen? (I know the answer is probably zero, but it needs to be stated.) And, my most personal question: If I was a comic book character, would someone make me a straight white girl in the movie adaptation? Are Asian characters, on the page and on screen, that easily erased for non-Asian fans?
Levin’s comments nearly put me off this film again, because that kind of basic oversight during the creative process can spell plotholes and further issues down the line. If they could mess up Daimio because they “lost track” of the character, what else did they lose track of? Or, even worse, the “Hellboy” filmmakers didn’t think Daimio’s identity warranted the basic respect of hiring an Asian actor in the first place. The only folks who’ve come out of this controversy well are Skrein – who stepped aside with grace – and Kim, who had only two days to prepare for the role, according to Comicbook, and seems like he’ll do great, judging by the trailers.
My Conclusion: Approach With Cautious Optimism (Thanks To Daniel Dae Kim and David Harbour)
Kim, along with the dedicated Harbour, is the saving graces of this film. Kim is an established, Korean American actor with the fighting skills (courtesy of Tae Kwon Do training and action stunts for “Hawaii Five-O”) and acting chops to come in at the ninth hour and play a convincing Ben Daimio. He should have been hired from the beginning, not in a Hail Mary attempt to save “Hellboy,” but Kim’s gracious enough not to mention that. He told Collider:
I’d heard about the controversy even before I knew I was gonna be a part of this project. This casting came as the last one in a long line of examples of the exact same issue. So when I heard what the producers did and what in particular Ed Skrein [did], I was really deeply moved and very impressed…It’s not often that someone takes that kind of responsibility and something that has a direct effect on his livelihood. So I couldn’t give him more credit for taking the stand that he did because it enabled me to do this job, of course, but I think what it says about the business and that issue writ large is much more important.
Kim gets it. Without throwing shade at the “Hellboy” filmmakers, he acknowledged the controversy, why Skrein’s stepping aside was important, and still came in to finish a job he should have been offered in the first place. An actor with that kind of class – and filmmakers smart enough to apologize and hire him – makes me cautiously optimistic.
Harbour’s transformation into Big Red has also hooked me in. From the very first image of Harbour as Hellboy, I was excited to see his take on the monster-turned-superhero while being a very, very convincing follow-up to Ron Perlman’s Hellboy. Harbour’s half-dramatic, half-comedic work on “Stranger Things” also means he can potentially play up Hellboy’s comedic lines without turning him into a punchline in the reboot, an easy pitfall many actors would fall victim to. Because of Kim’s inclusion, and the frequent glimpses we’ve seen of Harbour’s Hellboy, I’m willing to give “Hellboy” the benefit of the doubt. But damn, this all would have been a lot simpler if Kim had been hired in the first place.
“Hellboy” premieres April 12. Watch the latest trailer below.